Open-water Training 2017

 

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Coached sessions at London (ish) venues

 

Serpentine

SwimForTri:  http://www.swimfortri.co.uk/hyde-park/

RG Active: http://www.rgactive.com/coaching-training/swim-training/

Serpentine Swimming Club: http://serpentineswimmingclub.com/

General Admission: https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/sports-and-leisure/serpentine-lido

Tooting Bec Lido

Fit and Abel: http://fitandabel.com/uk-swim-coaching/

SLSC: https://www.slsc.org.uk/

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/

General Admission: https://www.placesforpeopleleisure.org/centres/tooting-bec-lido/

Parliament Hill Lido

Tri For Fitness: http://triforfitness.co.uk/courses.htm

General Admission:   https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/swimming/Pages/Swimming-opening-times-and-charges.aspx

London Royal Docks

RG Active: http://www.rgactive.com/coaching-training/swim-training/

General Admission: http://www.londonroyaldocksows.co.uk/opening-times/

Hampstead Ponds

RG Active: http://www.rgactive.com/coaching-training/swim-training/

General Admission: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/swimming/Pages/ponds-times-charges.aspx

West Reservoir

RG Active: http://www.rgactive.com/coaching-training/swim-training/

TriScape: TBC

London Fields Tri Club: https://lftri.co.uk/training

Capital Tri: https://v1.bookwhen.com/capitaltri

Swim Open: http://swim-open.com/

General Admission: http://www.better.org.uk/leisure-centre/london/hackney/stoke-newington-west-reservoir-centre  Note: in order to go swim there outside of organised sessions you need to have done an induction.  As the season progresses the availability decreases, so if you are thinking of using this facility, we would suggest booking your induction ASAP.

Brockwell Lido

Streamline Swims: http://www.streamlineswims.com/training/training-dates/

Windrush Tri Club: http://clubhouse.windrushtri.co.uk/page/training

General Admission: http://www.brockwelllido.com/

Shepperton Lake

Swim Lab: http://www.swimlab.org.uk/diary/

General Admission: http://www.sheppertonopenwaterswim.co.uk/

Stubbers

Swim For Tri: http://www.swimfortri.co.uk/stubbers/

Ham Lake

RG Active: http://www.rgactive.com/coaching-training/swim-training/

Heron Lake

General Admission:  http://www.swimheron.co.uk/

Bray Lake

General Admission:  http://www.braylakeswimming.com/

Thorpe

General Admission:  http://www.thorpeopenwaterswimming.co.uk/

Liquid Leisure at Datchet

General Admission:  http://www.openwaterswimminguk.co.uk/location

Marlow

General Admission:  http://www.openwaterswimminguk.co.uk/location

Papercourt

General Admission: http://www.racestrong.org/papercourt/

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A Mermaid’s Christmas wish list

The festive season is fast upon us and if any mermaids are looking for ideas of what to ask Santa for, we have done some research for you!

Gift ideas get more expensive as the days of Christmas progress!

First day of Christmas:

A nice little stocking filler that brightens up any outfit, bag or hat.

“I’d rather be a Mermaid” badge

“Support your local lido” patch

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or if badges aren’t your thing what about temporary tattoos.  I (Manda) think these are so cute and could easily be worn where only seen when swimming.. but then that would be waste!

Mermaids tattoo

Vintage swimmer tattoo

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Second day of Christmas:

Now at Team Mermaids, despite our love of water, we are not all that keen on washing up but this tea towel is so cute we couldn’t resist.

Bathing beauties tea towel

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Post cold swim every mermaid needs a cup of tea and this tea pot makes every cup of tea taste better.. we hope!

Swimmer Teapot

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Third day of Christmas:

How about a bit of swimspiration, whether be pool based:

Dara Torres: Age is just a number – Dara’s tale of making a coming back and competing at the Olympic Games aged 42 just two years after having had a baby.

Or open water based:

Lynn Cox: Swimming to Antarctica – Lynn’s extraordinary story of her cold water swimming adventures culminating in her swim across the Bering Strait at the high of the cold war.

Both of these ladies are Team Mermaid’s heroines and their books are a fantastic read. (Reviews here)

Fourth day of Christmas:

It’s winter time so that means any excuse to wear a Pivo hat (The hats knitted by our friend Paul “Pivo” Tannahill) but because not everyone can get their hands on the exclusive Pivo hat here is an alternative

BIG BOBBLE HAT!

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A Team Mermaids swim cap is a must! Contact us if you want one (cost = small donation to charity of Team mermaids choice)

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Fifth day of Christmas:

It has to be the Team googles – Zoggs predator Flexes.  You can never have too many pairs.  Team Mermaids have never been able to justify the cost of these special light reactive pair (which go from clear to tinted depending on the level of sunlight) but it is Christmas after all!

ZOGGS predator flex reactors

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Sixth day of Christmas:

No Christmas stocking is complete without a new costume.  I (Manda) am not sure I could pull this off… I mean who can but what a costume:

Pizza costume

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If you are looking for something a bit more classic (i.e. something that wouldn’t cause Katie to disown Manda) choose something like this:

Speedo costume

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If we were to compromise on our tastes in costumes we might end up with something like this:

Urban kitty costume

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For our Mermen readers how about these? (Chosen by Brian)

Top Bloke trunks

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Seventh day of Christmas:

Mermaids need to keep wrapped up warm when they are not in the water and what could be more perfect that this scarf with swimmers on!

Silk swimmer scarf

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Eighth day of Christmas:

Sticking with accessories and out of the water clothing, Early Bird swimmers do some really nice gear and these tanks and t-shirts are perfect for swimmers.

Female tank

Male t-shirt

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Also check out these t-shirts from lost lanes which are a fun alternative.

Mean girls mermaid t-shirt

I’m really a mermaid t-shirt

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Or if you are a little sadistic you might fancy this skirt.

Jellyfish skirt

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Ninth day of Christmas

Mermaids need plenty of bags to carry their stuff around.  If yours is looking a bit scruffy these are the perfect replacement.

Vintage swimmer tote

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Vintage beach tote

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This is our favourite rucksack for lugging our kit around.  Manda, Katie and Kate all have this one in different colours!

Speedo Rucksack

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Tenth day of Christmas:

For those winter days when you want to reminisce about amazing summery lido swims..help those memories along with these gorgeous prints:

Lido time print

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Brockwell Lido print

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or if you fancy something a little bit more “motivational mermaid” like then here is our fav:

“Always be a Mermaid” print

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Eleventh day of Christmas:

Team mermaids have been lusting after a Blue Seventy Sleeveless Helix.  Hopefully Santa is feeling generous..

Sleeveless Helix

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Twelfth day of Chrtistmas:

After our trip to Slovenia with Strel there was a lot of chat about this trip.  Unfortunately due to various reasons none of us have made it out to the US for the trip.  One day!

Lake Powell with Strel Swimming

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Swimtrek used to do a trip to Finland, which sounded amazing but sadly they stopped before any of us (apart from Suz) made it on the trip.  I (Manda) recently found this company who offer trips in Finland so something that I definitely want to do in the future.

Swimming Holiday Finland

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Let us know if you have any other Christmas ideas..until then Happy Holidays!

Shelley Taylor-Smith: Dangerous when wet

I (Manda) heard about Shelley Taylor-Smith from Paul Newsome (of swim smooth fame) when he referred to her as his mentor in the run up to his Manhattan Marathon swim, which he won. It wasn’t for a year or 2 later that I got wind of her book and promptly tracked a copy of it down.

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Whereas the book tells the story of Shelley’s life up to 1994, her swimming career kicked off in earnest after she was awarded a scholarship to the university of Arkansas in 1982, so the majority of the book is about her dominance in marathon swimming from then.

I loved this book. There was a lot of things I could relate to whether it being places where I have swum, the love you get from the guys when you beat them or the feeling of getting stronger the longer the swim but there was a 20 year gap between the book being written in 1995 and me reading it in 2015. So 20 years later, have things really changed that much in Woman’s marathon swimming?

Things that have changed since:

· Marathon swimming is now an Olympic event

Shelley mentions her desire for marathon swimming to be in the Olympics.  Shelley believed the media coverage her swimming was gathering would only help get marathon swimming in the Olympic programme. I think she was hoping that it would be a 25km or longer event in the Olympics but I hope she is happy with the 10km being there instead (even if we still haven’t got the 1500m for women yet…..what’s that about?!)

· Water quality in New York has improved… we think!

Shelley had to contend with condoms and dead rats during her multiple Manhattan swims and in 1984 Karen Hartley swam past a dead body. Fortunately during our 2012 Manhattan swim we didn’t seen anything like that, the threat of the east river monster was enough for me to handle.

· Men and Women’s now have separate world rankings

At one point in 1991 Shelley was the best in 25km combined world rankings. Not just best female, THE BEST SWIMMER. Shortly after they decided to split the rankings. Evidently the boys just couldn’t handle being chicked. Grow some lads…Grow some.

· Equal prize money for men and woman

Despite beating the men outright she would normally receive a smaller prize. Some races did offer a large prize for the “outright” winner but evidently they weren’t expecting Shelley to turn up and whoop ALL the boys butts, even if she occasionally did! As the swimmer’s representative at the International Marathon Swimming Association she fought for the equality in pay that we are now have.  FINA offer equal prize money in both the openwater world cup series (10kms) and the grand prix series (>10km).

Things that haven’t changed since:

· The water quality in Rio is poor

With RIO 2016 fast approaching there are still concerns about the water quality. Shelley when swimming there in the 90s got dysentery and this seemed to be a theme of any south American swim she raced in. She ended up in being horrendously sick 3 times after racing in Argentina and therefore, vowed never to return until they improved the water quality. Kerri-Anne Payne, the British 2016 10km swim hopeful, did a test event in Rio in August 2015 and supposedly no swimmers were sick post the race so hopefully the concerns re water quality won’t be founded.

· Marathon swimming can be more mental than physical

Yes you obviously can’t swim for hours and hours without being fit and lots of training but without the mental strength you aren’t going anywhere, let alone anywhere fast, long and cold. Shelley puts her mental strength down to being a woman and the pain she learnt to endure through years of back problems. She suffered from a childhood back problem that meant she was in a brace for 2000+ days, as well as multiple car crashes and temporary lower body paralysis from excessive training.

· Jellyfish are horrid

Shelley worked with her sports psychologist before her 25km world championship win to be able to deal with the excessive jellyfish. He managed to get her to think that the jellyfish were her friends and that the stinging was them kissing her. I am not sure what she thought was happening when she bit into one during the race.

109 lengths at Tooting Bec Lido with SLSC 2015

Every year since the 100 year anniversary of Tooting Bec Lido, SLSC have held a club challenge to swim the age of the lido in lengths.  Now if the lido was 25m then this would be a fun swim, however, (un)fortunately for us the lido is 100yds (91m).

2015 is the 109th anniversary of the lido so that would be a whopping 10,900 yards (9,966m) of swimming.  Last year we did the 10,800 yards distance as a 2 person relay in 17 degrees, but this year we decided early on in the year that we would tackle the distance solo as a bit of end of season fun.

So September came around and with it came the british winter a few months early.  This meant that the temperature at the lido was slowly dropping through the teens 17…16…15…14.  Please no lower!!!  The weekend before the swim we managed a 2 hour swim in the lido at 14 degrees in the glorious sunshine, however, the Thursday before the swim, we did 45 minutes swim at 7am and come 10am a colleague asked me if I was ok as my lips were blue.  Panic set in!

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The morning of the swim we were greeted with sunshine but 13 degree water. It was the best weather, if not water temperature, we could have asked for.  After arriving at the lido just after lunch, the SLSC captains set about getting us all ready.  There would be 9 of us doing the solo, of which 4 of us would be wearing wetsuits, therefore, 5 were doing it SKINS.  SKINS, my skin is tingling just typing this.

To start we walked to the deep end and entered the water there.  This threw me and Katie off as we are used to walking from the shallow end to acclimatize but couldn’t really raise an objection whilst covered in our luxury neoprene.

And we were off.  We had decided to have our first stop after 45 minutes, so after 33 lengths we stopped and I had a sip of luke warm tea and then the chat started:

Katie: How many have we done?

Me: 33 lengths

Katie screams loudly: IS THAT IT?

Now at this point Katie was about to offer to take the lead, however, she didn’t have a chance to offer as I rapidly set off again in fear of being shouted at for taking too long at feeds.

This meant there was no conversation about when to next feed.  I thought it would be good to do 42 lengths this time.  You would break the back of it by taking you to 75 and therefore, would leave only 34 to finish.  However, Katie was thinking I was going to do around 30 lengths so started worrying once we got higher than that, that I wasn’t going to let her stop again until the finish.

I did stop, which allowed for more, now cold, tea and allowed Katie to take the lead for the final 34.  By this point I couldn’t feel my feet properly, which makes for a bizarre sensation when pushing off the wall at a turn and I also realised that I had been so preoccupied about the cold in the build up I had forgotten about the distance actually being a challenge in itself and my arms started aching.

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109 lengths later we were finished. 2 hours 39 minutes in the lido. It was a challenge for so many reasons but mainly, the cold and distance.  Others commented on the tedious nature of the lap swimming for that long, however, by swimming as a team it was like you always had company and I was never bored.  This was the first race since Max’s arrival that Katie and I swam together (it would have been bridge to bridge if it wasn’t for her seeing my warning signs!) so for me it was a definite season highlight.

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Next year it is 110 lengths, so as an even number of lengths it might be back to a team mermaids relay instead.

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Thanks to SLSC for a great event and special thanks to Nicola and Mandy for their organisation and support.

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!

Elba swim

I (Manda) decided, for some silly reason, that Italy was a better choice than the Dart 10k this year.  I was genuinely sorry to miss out but I did get to do lots of awesome swimming instead, including a week of beautiful swimming in Elba.  Elba is an italian island off the coast of Tuscany with approximately 150 beaches.  Some of these beaches are easy to reach and some require a little more imagination.  Here is my DIY Elba swim adventure.

Day 1

Enfola
Small but perfectly charming bay where you could easily base yourself for the day. It is also where Mimmo realised you need to breathe whilst swimming.. I’m sure the other swimmers appreciated his gasp upon the realisation.

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Viticcio
It had so much promise but the beach itself was covered in seaweed and the same seaweed clouded the water. A 10m swim and you were clear.

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Procchio
This long strip of sand is home to a massive bit of water for swimming and also has loads of water sports stuff (windsurf, sup, pedalo etc) for hire. There were several other swimmers doing laps of the bay.

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Paolina
After spending a few hours at Procchio we decided to get in a bonus dip at Paolina. Beautiful little cove bay with a rock out in sea that makes for a post card swim view. Absolutely spectacular.

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Day 2

Scaglieri
A small little beach that is separated from the larger La Biodola by just a walk and a few rocks. Despite the proximity this beach has its own different personality and is an absolute joy to swim in.

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La Biodola
I managed to get a swim in here thanks to chasing after Mimmo on a SUP. The length of the bay from Scaglieri to La Biodola is approx 700m so lots of lush long swimming to be had.image

Day 3

Fetovaia
This bay has the most crystal clear water I have found so far. It is shallow for a long way out but that didn’t stop me starting to swim. I did see my first elban jellyfish, however, after my jelly soup experience and visibility so great I didn’t panic.. Which is a first!

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Sant’Andrea
After winding down the wiggliest road we arrived at Sant’Andrea and abandoned the bags in the only spot available at 5pm on a rammed beach. After swimming over a few large boulders we reached clear water where we found massive fishes that wanted to paddle with us!

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We were going to get in a bonus dip at Scogliera Sant’Andrea but sea urchins and no sea shoes meant no swim. No one likes prickly feet.. Right Suz?!

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Day 4

Naregno
We arrived at this beach with intention of spending a day there but after a couple of dips the lure of visiting another beach proved too much.

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Straccoligno
We had the worst pizza EVER at this beach and only got in 1 short swim here after which Mimmo declared ‘do you think people think we are weird?’ …Obviously! Onwards.

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Morcone
We headed over to Morcone for the final swim of the day but upon arriving at a beautiful beach we saw the lifeguard and several other people standing over a bucket. I knew what it would be but Mimmo went over to join the chat and confirm… medusa! I still got in, at which point the lifeguard decided the Medusa should be ‘Libero’, which means FREE…… Er ok!! I throughly enjoyed the swim at this beach (the post swim beer might have helped). Defo one for a repeat visit.

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Day 5

After a small recognisance mission to Redinoce, where the water wasn’t up to our high standard ;), we headed back to Fenicia, which is pretty much on our door step. We felt a bit silly only going here on day 5 as it was so lovely, so much so we spent the day here and didn’t even make it as far as Fenicetta and Ripa Barrata which are just a short walk/swim away.

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Day 6

Crocetta
‘Que bellisimo’. After eyeing up this beach on a previous visit to Elba and still lusting after its magical waters this time, I finally went for a swim here. Apparently it is dangerous to get here but in reality it is more just that it is probably not suitable for small children. A no goggles swim as just floated staring all around.

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Palombaia
Back to the south of the island for a few hours on this beach but alas the seaweed clouded the water, however after 230 steps down to the beach, the water was welcomed.

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Spartaia
A speedy dip at the next beach as Mimmo reckoned it could be a contender for the best beach, however the sand led to cloudy water. Who’d have thought after years of banging on about how sand beaches are better than stone I might *just* be leaning the other way.

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Day 7

This is it. The last day. Do you 1) go to your favourite all day 2) ‘risk it for a biscuit’ and try some new places or 3) shout ‘oy get lost you silly thunderstorm’

Well a mixture of 1 and 3. There were a couple of places I wanted to go but sometimes you just need to chill so we spent the day at Fenicia with a beach picnic of Pizza and beer.

Dart 10k: a swim of two halves

The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Dart 10k is one of the iconic open water swims of the season is and probably on most open water swimmers’ bucket lists. The event is a 10k swim down the River Dart in Devon from Totnes to Dittisham.  I think the Devon countryside is beautiful which gives an added attraction to the swim.  The swim is usually on a Saturday but this year due to demand the OSS decided to run the swim on the Saturday and then again on the Sunday.

The beautiful Devon countryside
The beautiful Devon countryside

Team Mermaids and friends decided to enter this year. The swim sells out very quickly – in just a few hours!  I was disorganised and all the places for Saturday had already sold out by the time it came to enter.  I ummed and ahhed for months about whether to enter on Sunday instead – but this would have meant going down to Devon by myself with everyone else going on Saturday – when a few weeks before the swim I received an email from the OSS saying that some places had become available for Saturday due to people pulling out – yay!

After I entered I noticed on the email that it said that ankle to wetsuits were compulsory. I always swim in a sleeveless wetsuit as I find full bodied wetsuits give me shoulder pain. I assumed this wouldn’t be a problem but emailed the OSS to check. Apparently it was a problem and the deadline for applying for an exemption had passed.  I had a couple of stressful days exchanging emails with the OSS pleading with them to let me wear my sleeveless suit as otherwise I would not have been able to do the swim. Thankfully they must have decided that I was sufficiently acclimatised as they let me wear it in the end.

On the day of the swim I got up at 5am to get to Paddington to get the train down to Totnes at 6.30am with Brian, Kate and Charlie. Manda had decided that she would rather spend two weeks in Italy rather than swim in a cold river so had given me her train ticket (I’m not sure why) – thanks Manda.  On the train down we discussed the rumour circulating on Facebook that the water was a very fresh 14°C!

We arrived in Totnes, registered and met up with Uncle Davy who was still smarting about coming second to a 16 year old last year. You can’t fight the aging process, Uncle Davy. Another new feature of the race this year was the establishment of an Elite Wave which both David and Brian were swimming in.  This wave went off first meaning that all the fast swimmers get a clear run at the course without having to dodge slower swimmers.

Brian and David before the start of the elite wave
Brian and David before the start of the elite wave

All swimmers in the main event were automatically entered into the medium speed wave (red hat) and you could switch out of out this wave into leisurely (yellow hat) or fast (white hat) if you wanted to.  My speed would probably be more suited to the fast wave but I decided to stay in the medium wave as it was setting off before the fast wave which meant I would be finished sooner.  As all swimmers were automatically in the medium wave this mean that this wave was huge. I was expecting there to be a water start but in actual fact you just walked over the timing mat at the start and then walked in the water and started swimming.  Kate and I were right at the back of the group as we entered the water and were generally faffing about so we got a very slow start.

The medium wave starting
The medium wave starting

It appears that the rumours were right as the water felt freezing. I was worried that I was not going to be able to last 2 – 3 hours in the water. In attempt to make up for the slow start I tried to overtake as many red hats as possible and claw my way up the field. Despite the cold water I really enjoyed the first part of the swim.  The river was quite narrow and you could see the beautiful countryside. The current was super super quick and I reached the first feeding station at 4km in about 45 minutes. By this stage I think I had over taken most of the red hats who were in front of me. There was one red hat already at the feeding station. We left at the same time and swam most of the rest of the swim close to each other.

After this feeding stop, the river widened and the water became more salty. I didn’t enjoy this half of the swim as much.  The swimmers around me had thinned out and consequently there were fewer safety surfers. Given how wide the river was and the fact that I hadn’t swum the course before it was quite difficult to know where to swim without there being a safety surfer to follow.  There were a couple of points where I am sure I swam much further than I needed to. On the plus side the water was much warmer and I didn’t feel cold any more.

The next feeding station was reportedly at 8km (at least this is what the man at the station told me). I reached this point 1 hour and 25 mins after starting the swim. At that speed I was expecting to be finished in less than another half an hour.  One of my goals for the swim was to finish before any of the white hats from the fast wave who started 20 mins after the medium wave. Shortly after leaving the feeding station I saw a white hat zoom past me though.

The last section after the feed section was most disheartening.  I couldn’t see many other swimmers or safety surfers and I didn’t have a clue where I was meant to be going. I did find my red hatted friend from the first feed station though and thought I would just follow him as he looked like he knew what he was doing. I was chatting to him afterwards and he said he was trying to follow me as I looked like I knew what I was doing – err, no.  This section also went on FOREVER and I was swimming for much longer than the half an hour I had expected. After I had finished I learned that the second feed station was a 7km not 8km which makes much more sense.

I hate not knowing where I am going or what I am aiming for so I was just about to give up and throw my toys out of the pram when a safety surfer came up beside me. I stopped and demanded to know ‘Where does this swim finish?!’  He responded ‘Err, in about 50 metres in that direction’. ‘Agh’ I said and sprinted off.

Swimmers coming into the finish
Swimmers coming into the finish
Brian and I at the end of the swim
Brian and I at the end of the swim
Kate at the end of the swim
Kate at the end of the swim

I finished in a time of 2 hours and 7 mins – clearly that current was strong!  Uncle Davy finished in 1 hour 49, Brian in 1 hour 59 and Kate in 2 hours and 22 mins.  Well done everyone.

Brian, David, Kate and Katie after the swim
Brian, David, Kate and Katie after the swim

At the end of the swim there was a mini festival where we drank hot chocolate out of our commemorative mugs, ate cake and shopped at the Selkie stand.

While I was swimming I was thinking that I never want to do this swim again but having finished and reflected I think it would be much better to do it again once you knew the course and what to expect so I would be up for doing this again, especially as Manda still needs to tick it off her bucket list!

Thanks to OSS for putting on the swim and to Charlie for great support and for all of the photos included in this post.

RG Active relays 2015

From the longest race to the shortest race of the season. After the 14km Bridge to Bridge the weekend before, last weekend Manda and I competed in the RG Active relays. The race is 6 laps of Ham Lake, a lock that is fed from the Thames nr. Richmond, and is 3.2k in total so around a mile each. Each lap you have to hand over to your team mate, which involves running up a steep hill. This part nearly killed me. At the end of each lap I was totally out of breath and I am not sure that that was from the swimming!

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While this isn’t the biggest challenge distance wise, it is lots of fun. It is great to hang out with all the RG Active peeps and chat about the seasons events. After the event Vicki and Emma had baked some cakes which were worth the trip alone.

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This is the second year the relays have been run. Last year Manda and I were the winners so we were hoping for a repeat performance. In fact Manda has been doing some trash talk on Twitter which was making me a bit nervous! Alas it was not to be as we were beaten by a Teddington Masters team into second place by 3 mins (we swam 49m 29s compared to their 46m 31s). We will be back next year to try and regain the title!!

Bridge to Bridge 2015

Sunday saw Team Mermaids in attendance at the 11th edition (we think?!) of Henley Swim’s Bridge to Bridge. This is a 14km swim in the Thames from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge. Brian participated in the event last year (see here). However, this year was going to be different for 2 main reasons. First, the pod format had been replaced with either solo swims (tow float required) or paced pod swims (more on that later!). Secondly the weather. Last year it was taking place the day the impact of hurricane Bertha arrived in the UK, which meant horrific weather but a compensating current. We had sunshine and clouds but a slower current!

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You were given the option of registering on the Saturday at the Angel pub in Henley. Henley Swim’s love of the pub (they put on the Club to Pub as well which ends at the Angel) makes it one of the best, if not the best, swimming event companies in our eyes. So registered and a pint down we settled down for some pasta and an early night at Chez Barker in Reading.

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The Sunday saw a relaxed start in comparison to some of our other departure times and we got to the Leander club, where the event started, at 8am, at which point the green wave was setting off.

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Soon enough the blue wave, including Kate, was gone and the pink wave, where me and Katie would be swimming had our briefing. We were both going to stick with a pacing pod for the swim. The swim isn’t a race and by surrounding yourself and sticking with other swimmers you stick to this ethos. Katie decided to swim with Pace Pod 9 (aiming for 3:45) that was paced by Simon Griffiths from H2Open magazine and I made a last minute decision to go into Dan Bullock from Swim for Tri‘s Pace Pod 10 (aiming for 3:30).

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At 9am we departed. Now here at Team Mermaids we are plodders, one pace wonders, the tortoises. Call it what you want but we stick to this plan of going out at a pace we know we can maintain for the whole distance and generally it works for us. People sprinted off the start line so much so that it took me a good 15 minutes to reach a pacer to only realise it wasn’t Dan but Simon! I decided to stick to my own pacing plan even if it meant dropping down a group at the first stop.

Bridge-to-Bridge-course-map

After 4km I got to the first lock and pod 10 had just arrived… Phew! We then got in the water and waited for our kayakers. Katie appeared at this point all chipper and suggesting she might come into my pod. The pace for the first section had been pretty rapid. I didn’t want to sound negative so just said a casual ‘ok’ rather than screaming ‘DON’T DO IT TO YOURSELF’ in her face. She then asked how long we had been at the lock… 10 mins by this point. Upon doing the maths and realising that we had done the first stage in 49 mins she promptly disappeared back into the comfort of Simon’s pod whilst I whispered ‘take me with you’.

After the first stop the pace settled down and a routine of haribo, gel and water became standard at each lock. There are five stages to the swim with four stops. The swim, like the Jubilee, has decreasing distances for each stage, which means after 2 stages you are half way. The final stage somewhat bucks this trend and is 2.3km. However a fellow pod 10 swimmer who had swum the event previously told me ‘it isn’t 2.3km.. It must be at least 2.7km. That church never appears’. Therefore, whereas for a lot of swimmers that final stage was mentally and physically breaking, I was surprised but happy to see the bridge appear so quickly. Admittedly I did try and get out early only to be shooed away by a man on the banks pointing me to the real finish!

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Thanks to Henley swim for putting on another great event. We both really enjoyed it. Thanks to all the people manning the feeding stations at the different locks and to the kayakers for being the silent comforting presence they are. Thanks to Simon for pacing Katie and I think, thanks to Dan for pacing me….

Additionally, a special thanks to the Barkers for letting us stay over again so we didn’t have to get up at a silly hour to register on the Sunday morning (although I am not happy about MY room having no bed now!!) and to Dennis for driving us around.

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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