Tag Archives: Open Water Swimming

Henley Bridge to Bridge Marathon Swim

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I undertook my swimming challenge for this year and I still can’t quite believe I did it!

Last November I signed up for the Henley Bridge to Bridge Marathon swim. This a 14km swim from Henley to Marlow. My swim coach took part in 2015 and decided to get a team together and make it a social event for 2016. This meant we could train together and set up days when we would all do long distance swims so we wouldn’t be alone.

It was a long journey of training, but it actually kept me going through a time where I really could have given up swimming. I gave up pool swimming and solely focused on the open water swimming. It made huge difference to my mental strength to just focus on the one thing. Taking the pressure off made it much easier to enjoy the journey. I also changed waves so I could swim in the middle one, rather than the faster one – best decision ever!

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It was a very early start on Sunday 8th August – 4am to be exact! I drove to a friends house so we could then car share to Henley. We arrived at Henley at 6am and registered, waited for the group to arrive and got ready. This is where my nerves started to kick in and I focused on thinking about swimming at my own pace and making it to the end.

The sign in the photo below was from the very start and it was a great reminder of what the event was really about. We didn’t need to worry about time as it wasn’t a race. it was run as a sportive and all focused on getting everyone to the finish.

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The swim we split into 4 stages with 3 feed stops at the locks. The first stage was 4km, then 6km, then 1.5km, then 2.5km. Each feed stop had drinks and a variety of food. Hand sanitiser and extra vaseline was provided and you had a to walk at least 100m from the exit to the entry points.

The fist 4km was easy and the stop came up to surprise me. It was a very busy section as everyone in the one wave started together. It meant getting clear water was hard and I lost the two friends I was swimming with (we caught each other at the stop) so I just focused on swimming steady and trying to notice where we were on the river. I felt good for this section.

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The second section was the big one – 6km non-stop. it’s the furthest I’ve swam non-stop and I was surprised at how good I felt. The river changed as we swam along. We passed green fields and very big houses and felt like there was no one else around. When we got in at this section we were asked to keep to groups with a kayak, but there was a steady stream of people that they didn’t make anyone wait to start (they did in the slower wave I was told). There were a couple of points along this route where you could have taken the wrong split, but the kayakers with us were great and kept us on course the whole way. My friend got cramp around 4km in and we pauseda minute, but got going again and this is where my arms started to feel it. My friend picked up speed and I started to slow, but we worked well together and kept going.

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We stopped for a little longer at the next stop to make sure we had the energy and were hydrated. I topped up the vaseline around my neck and then was ready to go. We had to cross the river and walk across an island before getting back in at quite rocky point, but the flow of the weir was a nice push off to start the last 4 km. I found this stage the hardest as my arms ached and it was not quite long enough to find my rhythm after the 6km stretch. Mentally I had to work hard here and kept focused on even arm strokes and moving forward. My friend was able to lose me here, but we caught each other at the last stop.

The last stage was started by a jump into the river after a lock and staying out the way of the boats. It was around 11ish at the time and there were many more boats on the river than the rest of the time. Also we were heading into Marlow so the it was generally much busier on the towpath and the river itself. This stage was easier in a way because I knew it was the last, but it was also hard, because it was the last 2km of a 14km swim! I focused again on keeping steady and getting to the end. Energy wise I was, just tired, but my arms were struggling a lot by this point. I definitely could have done some extra conditioning training in the run up!

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I was so happy at the end. One because it was over and also because I had done it! I had swam the farthest I’ve ever swum (and probably ever will). It was also much sunnier than when we started and I knew I would be able to relax for a couple of hours waiting for the others to all finish before heading home.

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While we were waiting in the glorious sunshine we talked about what other swims we would like to do. Our coach will probably put another team to together for this event next year, but I don’t think I want to do it two years running. I would come and support though as I think it would be a lovely walk along the river to follow the swimmers. Instead we were thinking about Coniston in the Lake District. That could be a fun trip!

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I would recommend this swim to anyone doing long distance swimming. It was fun and really well organised. The feed stops were well stocked and the volunteers at each one were super helpful. The kayakers and start/finish crews were also amazing!

As long as you put in the training and do not underestimate the distance or the mental requirements of this type of swimming then you will absolutely fine. I stuck to feeding as I did in my training, which mainly involved gels and chocolate to take away the taste of the gels. That works for me, and take time to figure our what works for you. Some people didn’t feed, others used what was at the stops, and others used fruit and nut bars only. As everyone has a wear a tow float I found it easy to carry what I needed and it got lighter as you swam further.

Training wise I progressed from swimming around 3km a time to regularly swimming 5km, with longer swims of 7km to 11km every couple of weeks. I didn’t have a set plan in the end, but rather worked out what I needed to get to and fitted into my schedule as well as making sure I took part in the group long swims.

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Overall this was a fantastic day and a great achievement for me. If you fancy doing it go to the Henley Swim website and sign up for 2017! They also do shorter swims, including one that end at a pub with the medal being a bottle opener – open water swimming is for everyone!

Keep on Swimming

I think I’m finding my love of swimming again after a bit of a turbulent year of not really feeling it. It’s funny how something that you love can become a chore so easily and then the love disappears and you wonder why you ever liked it at all. It was a horrible time as I do love swimming and being in the water is one of my major childhood memories. What I realised is that it was no longer fun. I was no longer the kid just jumping in to swim around and enjoy the feel of the water. I had a time to swim or a distance to get to. It was all about the goals and not about the enjoyment. So no wonder I didn’t want to go every single time!

I took the pressure off myself and stopped swimming in the pool with my swimming club and began to focus on only lake swimming and that has made such a difference. I reconnected with lake friends from last year and have been having fun building up to longer swims, while having a good time doing it. I still have a goal, but it is one goal, rather than 10!

I like to have something to train for as it gives me focus, but I don’t like events really. So this year I am not using other events as training sessions. I’m still planning on swimming the Bridge to Bridge Thames Marathon in August, but have changed my wave to the middle one, rather than the faster one so I can swim with my friends and take the speed pressure off.

I’m making the most of my membership to one of my local lakes and going as often as I like. There are also three other local lakes that I can use if there is an event on at my lake on the day I want to go. I usually go twice a week with one session being a long swim building up to 10km and one being a coached session working on skills. I would like to get in another session to have some fun and swim too, but timing is harder with that one. I’ve also started back at the gym and doing a couple of classes with my friend Helly and we are having great fun and it doesn’t feel like working out at all. We have a gossip and catch up while moving around and laughing. This means I am working out 4/5 times a week without trying too hard, which is nice and it feels good mentally and physically.

Come rain or sunshine I’ll be at the lake this summer!

2016 Swimming Challenge

This year I have set my 2016 challenge as the Thames Marathon Bridge to Bridge –  a 14km swim down the River Thames from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge.

However I currently feel the training is my biggest challenge!

I’ve been struggling to get back into regular swimming for a good few months now and felt last year I was very inconsistent with my training. I gave myself January off this year and just swam when I could as I was away a lot and it was birthday it just felt like the wrong time to put pressure on myself.

So I thought February would be my 2016 start and I made it one full week of sessions with my swimming club, before being away and then not feeling up to it with a dodgy shoulder. I just don’t feel that into swimming club anymore. I also feel the same about running club. Both feel restrictive to me for some reason. I almost feel like they have served their purpose and now I am moving into the next stage of my life where the things I once needed are no longer right for me.

I want more freedom and flexibility in my life and to stop feeling guilt for missing sessions I planned to go to. I also want more time to focus on my career and other loves. I want to read more and blog properly. I want to learn about coffee more and travel to new places. I want to cook nice meals that are healthy. I want to spend time with my cats and train them better to go outside more often. There are so many things I want to do!

And yet I feel guilty for not wanting to be part of these clubs anymore. Why is that?

I love the friends I have made. Perhaps I am worried I won’t see them anymore if I stop going, but I know that won’t be the case for all of them. Perhaps I am worried of what people will think of me if I no longer do the things I am known for doing. Overall I am worrying about what other people think, rather than what I want.

When I think about it I want to swim more at the lake. I’ve bought my membership. I can swim earlier then I can at the pool (when it’s lighter) and there is more space and less people. I want to get to know the people I’ll be doing the Thames Marathon with. It feel right and exciting, which is what I don’t get from swimming club anymore. I am currently thinking of going down to one club session a week to keep in the loop, and focus on the lake swimming. I’ll also be looking to step away from coaching in the summer as then I will have helped for 3 years and would be happier to be cover, rather than full commitment.

I’m still in thinking mode about this, but need to decide soon so I stop fretting about change. I just need to be happy with my decision and then it won’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Adventures in Swimming… Henley Classic 2015

Last weekend I had one very early night followed by a very early morning to go swim in the Thames for the Henley Classic.

My day started on Saturday night with a 7:30pm bedtime. I can say I was asleep by 8pm as was exhausted from my teaching course that day. I actually slept really well. My alarm went off at 1:30am and I got up with some bleary eyed cats wondering what the hell I was doing, grabbed my bag and headed out.

I had to drive for just over an hour to get to the swim, but it was lovely and quiet and when I got close I joined a stream of cars heading the same way so didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

The thing to note with this swim is that there is some walking involved. The registration is pretty much in the middles of the 2.1km course, so you have to walk to the start and then walk back from the finish. However the bonus is that this means there are no turns on the swim!

The swim started with a torch lit walk to the start and briefing. They only did one briefing for all the waves, but as the waves started fairly soon after each other that worked great. I was in the women’s open wave, which meant I had a pink hat and would be timed. There were also elite, means, and non-timed waves depending on your preference.

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It gradually got lighter, but we weren’t able to see the sun rise as it was very cloudy. The first wave started at 4:30am and my wave went off at 4:48am. I started near the front, but let a couple rows be ahead of me as didn’t know the field. I realised this was the wrong move and I should have just gone at the front when I quickly caught up with people and had to work my way around them for a first 5 minutes of the swim. I wasn’t racing, but I wanted to swim well, so didn’t want people holding me up.

I felt strong during the swim and it went quite quickly. I only saw one distance marker at about half way as I was over to the right and they were on the left side of the river. It didn’t worry me as I just kept the pace I was comfortable at while pushing slightly. I easily caught up the back of the previous wave and then even caught up with some of the men from the wave in front of that. I knew there were around 20 women ahead of me from my wave so I felt in a really good position.

The only trouble I had was that my had decided slip upwards during the second half of the swim and it pulled my googles tighter. I could feel the pressure, but refused to stop to sort it out as it wasn’t coming off completely. The last quarter of the swim felt hard and I wanted it reach the end. I was catching up with more people so lost my clear water and the hat issue was annoying.

I then could see people further ahead moving left so knew the finish gantry would be somewhere, but it seemed to take ages to appear. Then suddenly I was swimming under the gantry and batting my wrist against the timing device to record my finish. Just after this was where they were taking the finishing photos, but I needed to pull my hat off and keep moving out of the way so it really looks like I’m drowning. They didn’t catch my thumbs up, which am sad about, but for once I actually quite like the photos as I can see the smile in my eye.

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Then was the walk back to the main area to get my time and medal. I was really pleased with my time of 38 minutes as I had never done this swim before or even swum upstream of a river before so didn’t know what to expect. I think I could have gone quicker, but was not worried about that really, I just wanted a good swim and that is what I had.

I then changed, and headed home and back to bed. The prize giving was not untik 7:30am and I was on my own and was finished and changed by 6am I decided not to hang around. SO I was home by 7:30am and was back in bed for 8am to catch up on sleep.

Overall it was a good event. I was jealous of the people who didn’t have far to come, but not so of the people who had camped. I would definitely recommend this event to any swimmer as it was a nice distance to swim and as there were no corners I can say there was no hassle or risk of being pushed under, even at the start as it is a wide course everyone was spread out. A great swim in conclusion and one I would do again, but I would like to have a driver next time!

 

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Adventures in Swimming… ASA Wiltshire Open Water Race 2015

Last weekend on top of doing my swimming course and the Solstice at Avebury I competed in the Wilsthire ASA Open Water race. There was the option of doing the 1.5km or the 3km, but due to my schedule I knew I would struggle if I did the 3km, so went for the 1.5km and was very glad I did.

It was a lovely evening and lots of people had turned up to take part, mainly kids from the lcoal swimming clubs. What I like about this event is that you have to be a certain level of ASA membership to take part, so that means it’s restricted for those who enter, making it a much smaller event and really much more enjoyable than standard open water events.

We started by doing a deep water start, which is something i love as I am not a fan of beach starts. We then headed off on two laps of the course. I felt really good on the first lap, but during the second my tiredness really hit and I lost the two people I was swimming with. I struggled to keep the pace up on the second lap so just concentrated on steady and strong swimming.

I finished in time of 27 minutes 59 seconds. I was happy with that, but also disappointed as I found the last time I swam this even back in 2009 I swam in 26 minutes 16 seconds. I know I was at my lowest weight when I did that back in 2009 and I wouldn’t have spent the weekend on a course or at the Solstice, but I was still disappointed. Next year I want to beat that time.

Overall it was great to be back in an ASA open water event and I look forward to getting some of swimming club friends taking part next year.

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