The Splash

Sunday morning saw a gaggle of open water swimmers and a token triathlete head to the west reservoir at Stoke Newington for Capital Tri’s final ‘the splash’ of the season.

My day started at 6am when I took the Katie Kenny approach to nutrition and had a biscuit for my breakfast before driving to North London.

We arrived at the West Reservoir and quickly registered. The reservoir is a lovely venue – so lovely that you can even have your wedding reception there. I’ve never been to swim here before because the timings have never worked for a RG Active session and to do a “on your own” swim session you need an induction, which is a bit of a nuisance and they get booked up well in advance.

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I was swimming the 3k at 7:25, whereas, most of the others were starting their 3km at 7:55. We had a briefing and then soon enough I was in the water. At this point with Brian, Dad Carr, David, Pivo and Josie being in a later wave and Katie being in Berlin, I decided to try make a friend with the nearest available man as I needed some clarification about how many laps I was meant to be swimming. Said man didn’t want to be my friend but I persisted until we set off. We were doing 4 laps of 750m (thanks ‘said man’ for clarifying this).

As seems to be the norm now I had to calm myself down over the first lap. There was a pack ahead, which I was never going to catch and then me and 2 other guys. I quickly pulled in front and with that accepted the possibility that they might draft off me the whole way.

After the first lap I reminded myself I wasn’t race fit and needed to relax the effort levels. Surprisingly this didn’t significantly impact my pace (see below) which should serve as a lesson.

As I ended lap 3 the lead swimmer from the later wave overtook me. Waaaaaah! And soon enough Uncle Davey, Brian and Dad Carr followed suit. I tried my best to hang on to Brian and Dad Carr but only lasted 100m.

I sprinted to the finish and exited in a time of 52 minutes. I was hoping for 50 minutes but general consensus in the post race debrief was that it was 3.2 km not 3 km so this was on target.

It was a great event and one I would definitely be keen to do again.

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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!

RG Active Relay Race 2016

imageThis was Team Mermaids third trip to the RG Active Relays. The first year Manda and I emerged victorious but the second year we were pipped into second place. Would it be third time lucky for Brian (standing in as merman in Manda’s place) and I?

The format is 6 laps of around 500m of Ham Lake (plus a little bit further on the start lap). You can have a team of between 2 and 6 people and the only rule is that you need to change over each lap by running up a hill to the start and high fiving.

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Photo by Marsha @rgactive

Brian and I tossed a coin to see who was going to start and swim the slightly longer first lap. I lost and lined up with around 12 other teams at the start of the race. Everyone set off like a rocket and it took me until about half way up the straight to overtake all but the leading swimmer. I tried to catch him but ended the lap about 100m behind. Brian luckily however managed to overtake this team’s second swimmer during his first lap. From there we stayed in the lead finishing in a time of 50mins and 31 secs. Title regained!

It is always fun to do something a bit different and especially something which requires a bit of sprinting. I think it was a bit too enthusiastic on the first lap as I was pretty sluggish when I set out on the second but I soon warmed back up. I tried to start a bit more sedately on the third lap to have something left for a sprint finish.

We really enjoyed the event. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed and there was even cake at the end!

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Photos by Marsha @rgactive

Henley Mile – Skins vs. suits 2016

The question is age old – how much difference does wearing a wetsuit make?  

It is almost impossible to answer that question.  Races, courses, water flow, how you feel on the day are all different.  The closest you are ever going to get to answer the question however is doing the same swim twice on the same day, one with your wetsuit and once without.  That is what I (Katie) did on 10 July 2016 at the Henley Mile event.

Henley swim run four events a year: the Classic, Thames Marathon (aka Bridge 2 Bridge), Club to Pub and the Mile.  Team Mermaids have competed in all of these events before apart from the Mile so I wanted to complete the “set” this year.  I went on the website to enter and saw that they were running the suits vs. skins challenge which I thought looked like fun so I signed right up!

The Henley Swim events are always really well organised and professional.  They also tend to have a little something which makes them different and standout from other events I have swim in such as club to pub where the swim ends up at a pub!

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The Henley Mile was a full day of races covering different distances from one mile down to 200m for the kids.  The first wave went off at 9am which makes it a much more civilised start than the 4am classic start time.  The event was combined with the Open Water Swimming Show hosted by H2Open magazine which had a combination of talks, demonstrations and stalls selling swimming gear.  Our very own Dan Bullock was there giving talks and doing demonstrations along with Cassie Patten – Olympic Bronze medallist in the 10km open water swim in Beijing.

As the rest of Team Mermaids and friends were out of action for one reason or another I managed to persuade Dennis and Max to come down and support me and keep me company during the day.  

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My first race was at 10am – this time in my wetsuit.  The day has started off quite overcast and by the time we were walking the mile down to the start it was pouring down.  Once you get in the water though a little rain doesn’t matter and we were quickly off.  The course is absolutely lovely – swimming downstream between the Henley Royal Regatta boomed course.  It is nice not to be just going round in circles for a change but also not needing to constantly slight.

I was uncharacteristically enthusiastic at the start and tried to keep up with the three leaders.  I managed to stay with them until just over half way but then dropped back.  I was then swimming neck and neck with another lady for about 500m.  I lost sight of her at around 200m to go (where there is a helpful sign telling you to sprint) and I had a sneaking feeling I would find her on my feet.  A minute or so later I had that tell-tale tap on my toes which spurred me on to sprint down the last 100m or so.  I finished fourth in my wave of skins vs. suits participants in a time of 21 mins 5 secs.  The river flow must have been pretty strong as I would generally be happy with anything under 24 mins for a mile.  Overall I was pleased with my swim but I was also pretty tired and now sure how I was going to mange to do the whole thing again!

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My next race wasn’t until 3.40pm so while Dennis headed off for his long marathon training run Max and I hung out at the open water show looking round the stalls and chatted to people.  Once Dennis had finished his run we drove into Henley itself for a bit of carbo loading at a local Italian.  

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By the time we got back to the event the sun was out and it was lovely and warm which was good news as I registered and got ready for my skins race.  The water was a balmy 18.8 degrees, however, I haven’t done any skins swimming so far this year so getting in was still a bit of a jolt to the system.  Once I was swimming though I didn’t feel too bad.  For this wave we also had elite and other traditional swimmers with us so it was harder to tell where you were in the field of suits vs. skins participants.  There were two young elite swimmers who sprinted off from the whistle and I settled down to swim with three or four others – not sure if they were the same swimmers as the morning swim though.

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I think my morning exertions had taken its toll a bit and I didn’t feel as good in the afternoon swim.  Again I tried to keep with the three leading ladies but lost touch a little over half way.  Over the final 200m I was racing against another lady.  She was half a body in front of me and my efforts to catch her were being hampered by my goggles being totally fogged up and not being able to see the finish line.  In the end I didn’t quite manage to catch her.  

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So what difference does a wetsuit make over a mile?  Well in my case 1 min and 31 seconds as I finished my second mile in 22 mins and 36 second.  So in percentage terms I was 7% slower without my wetsuit.  I think to be honest some of that will down to not having such a great swim and not taking out as fast as I did in the morning.  Overall though a wetsuit makes less difference that I would have thought!

I would absolutely recommend this event for next year.  It was a great race but also a fun day out.

Jubilee River Swim 2016

The Jubliee River Swim was one of our favourites of 2015. This along with the fact that this was to be the first open water race of 2016 meant that excitement levels were high leading up to the swim. Everything was going well, we had been training and had even managed a few sessions in the lido and then….the weather turned.

Now I (Katie) am a bit of a whimp about swimming in cold water. 18 or 19 is perfect but anything lower than 15 and I am not keen. The lovely weather in May meant that the water was generally not too bad. Brian and I had managed a few 4km sessions in the lido and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was warm, I wasn’t freezing either.

The weather in the first week of June however was AWFUL. When Brian and I turned up at the lido for a pre race warm up swim on Saturday we were greeted with the news that it was a mere 13 degrees. We swam a mile. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun. I was now seriously worried about swimming 10km in open water the next day.

The Jubliee River is an overflow channel of the Thames. For the race you swim downstream in four stretches getting out at certain points to walk around the weirs.  If you want more info about distances and format check out our blog from last year.

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Team Rainbow swam a relay

Now I do like the Jubliee River Swim.  The course is absolutely lovely and it is a really calm and peaceful swim. To be frank, however, I had a pretty torrid time this year. I spent most of the swim feeling absolutely freezing. Every time I got out to walk round a weir I was shivering. Despite the sun on my back (it finally made an appearance) I think the 14.4 degree water was just too cold for me.

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I was also pretty disappointed in my finishing time. Last year I finished in 2h 37m just 4 months after having a baby. This year I wanted to swim at least 2h 27m and I really wanted to swim  2h 20m – 2h 25m. I finally crossed the line in 2h 28m 07s. Not miles behind I guess but when you set yourself a goal sometimes a 1m might as well be 10.

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David texted me later the day to ask what when wrong? The answer is I’m not sure. Was it the cold? Did I just not commit enough? Have I not done the right kind of training? Am I just still not back to ‘normal’ after the baby? Who knows!

Despite the above I will definitely be back again next year as I do really love the swim and would recommend it to people as a good season opener. Just fingers crossed for warmer water next year!

The pregnancy swim diary

Being pregnant presented some interesting challenges to my (Manda) swimming training, however, I was able to continue to swim right until 40 weeks.  This was all made possible by lots of lovely people, mainly Katie, who continued to swim with me despite my speed and endurance not being what it once was.  It also helped that I had goals (swimathon/winter river challenge/staying fit for labour!) that kept me focused.

I honestly believe that swimming is the best sport for pregnancy.. You don’t need to do as much as me but it should be encouraged to swim throughout pregnancy.

Here is what I got up to swimming wise whilst pregnant.

Weeks 1-4
Most people don’t realise they are pregnant by this point so it is business as usual.

Weeks 5-8
I swam a 10k in the lido in 13 degrees at this point. 😉 so evidently still BAU!

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I did struggle one week due to a feeling that I was ripping my stomach muscles every time I pushed off the wall. Not sure what it was but after 2500m I got out. I decided to get back in 2 days later and just be less aggressive on the turns and I was fine.

Week 8-12
I’m getting slower.. Well maybe not slower but I’m fatiguing a lot quicker and for a long distance swimmer being able to handle 200m easier than 1600m is a bitter pill to swallow. Apart from that I’m still thoroughly enjoying my swimming and being around friends.

Week 12-16
I had to go to Hong Kong for 1 of the weeks and only managed one short swim there and I decided to go to the pool when the entire over 65 population of Hong Kong seemed to be there! This meant avoiding breaststrokers who seemed to be hell bent on swimming in the middle of the lane and kicking me. After that there was no swimming for nearly 3 weeks due to a combination of jet lag and a cough. I couldn’t take anything for it so just had to wait it out. Sorry to anyone who had the pleasure of miserable Manda during the time. I made my return for the 12 days of Christmas set and managed the 4K fine apart from the joys of now needing a toilet break mid swim. I’m also having to be a bit more selective on what costume to wear.

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Week 16-20
No Christmas sea dip for me. Brian tried to suggest the baby needs to get used to the cold water asap and I totally agree but it was more the risk of getting sick again that stopped me.

I am still doing the sets I write, I have just stopped trying to do anything that is over 80% effort and anything that involves less breathing than normal.. Maybe I should stop including anything over 80% in my sets but then how would I inflict pain on Katie and the others?! I am also finding that I am not fatiguing as I was at the beginning so maybe that was just a first trimester thing.

Week 20-24
Over half way and perfect timing for a 10 minute time trial with Swim for Tri to see how much speed I’ve lost. Admittedly there was some tactical drafting going on (thanks Simon and Katie in the later stages) but I did 700m and as I can’t swim at max effort I was pleasantly pleased with that. Previous best was 725m.

I am still doing 4km for my weekend swim. The idea is to keep up this distance on the weekends for as long as possible, especially as I need to swim 5k for the swimathon.

Week 24-28
I have admitted defeat and invested in some size 36”(which is 2 sizes up from my usual size) swimming costumes.  The maternity ones are just fugly and don’t look like they have been designed with swimmers who actually want to swim frontcrawl so my plan is 36” for now.

It is only one month to go until Swimathon so I am still doing a long swim of 4km or longer a week to ensure I can cope with the 5k distance.  We even managed a cheeky 50*100m down at Charlton one weekend in preparation for Katie and Brian doing 100*100m in April. I plan to go along but probably not do the full 100..although.. No I won’t..I promise!!!

I also managed to demonstrate in week 26 how 1) I had lost my sense of balance 2) I am not designed to be on land by falling off a pavement when 100m from the entrance to the swimming pool.  My knees took the brunt but a week later I was back in the water…just ALOT slower for the week off (or maybe it was all the food I ate in Italy whilst I wasn’t able to swim!)

Week 28 – 32
I have admitted defeat part II.  I have a 2 piece.  I’m baffling the swimmers of London.  Female, pregnant, 2 piece, fast lane -> SAY WHAT?!? Although after my week out of the water following “pavement gate”, I probably don’t belong in the fast lane anymore.  sob sob sob.

Swimathon! I did it.  5k in 1:25.  My hope was under 1:30 but that was including me taking rests as needed, so I was chuffed!  I only took one break for about 45 seconds at 3km.  I even managed to get a shout out from Duncan Goodhew on twitter.

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Week 32-36
No swimathon to train for but still have 3 weeks of the Winter River Challenge to go so still trying to get the 9641m a week done which means a 4k swim once a week.  There were 2 weeks where I didn’t make the weekly goal distance because I had to get out the water at Charlton 1.5k into a 4k swim as I was suffering badly from acid…oh the joys of being pregnant.  The following week I missed the target due to a combination of taking it easy for once and our Tuesday night session being cancelled.

Week 36-40
The winter river challenge is over!  I am still swimming.  On my last day of work we went for a dip at Kings Cross Pond Club but my already taut skin couldn’t take the cold water and felt like it was on the verge of ripping.  So I got out pretty quickly… ok VERY quickly!!  Very bizarre sensation.  Hoping the lido warms up (and I find my lido pass!) so I can get back in.

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Photo: @ledavies

I went for a swim at Hampton on my own, whilst the others were busy training for the jubilee 10k in the lido and was pleased to report that I was the fastest person in the pool (..just!).

Week 40+

This is where the diary ends… And after a few weeks ordered rest I will be back training for Coniston 2016, which could be my biggest challenge to date.  Watch this space.


Special thanks to Swim For Tri, RG Active and #thisgirlcan for keeping me swimming and Katie and Simon for not kicking me out of the fast lane!

HELP! Winter River Challenge

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The 1st of April will signify that we have 30 days of the Winter River Challenge to go and we already know that we aren’t going to make it by this date, despite a last minute surge by some of the team (thanks Hilary!).

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your metres”

We have asked friends and family to help out but to be honest most of them don’t like swimming (I knoooooooow!) therefore, are unlikely to be that helpful!!  (We are looking at you Dom and Dennis!)

What can you do to help us? Swim!

You can donate 1 of your swims during April to us.

You can only donate 1 of your swims so make sure it is a good one.  That being said we are desperate so anything from 100 metres to 10,000 metres will be gratefully received and it all helps us get the final metres done!  Then let us know how many metres you swam during your swim session and we will add it to our total and ensure you get a mention in the final summary.

Let us know by either commenting below, tweeting about it with hashtag #winterriverchallenge, tweeting us at @teammermaids12, email us on hello@teammermaids.com or send a carrier pigeon.

Happy swimming.
Team Mermaids

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Here is a list of what has been donated so far:

DONATIONS