A great swim in The Great London Swim, 2011

And they're off. The Great London Swim gets underway in Royal Victoria Dock

Last weekend I did The Great Swim in London’s Royal Victoria Dock.  

Must admit I was a bit anxious beforehand, especially after the tragic death of a 46 year old man in the previous Great Swim in the Lake District, coupled with a concern about the state of the River Thames.

I am well aware of the risk posed by Weil’s Disease having done a few open water swims. However, more experienced swimmers have reassured me that the threat is over exaggerated and in any case is more of a concern to rowers as rats whose urine causes the disease like to congregate around boats and ropes.

In the end I needn’t have worried. The water was OK – well a little muddy perhaps – the water temperature was warm at around 17 degrees, and the setting was fantastic with Canary Wharf in the background and propeller planes flying overhead into City Airport. This is definitely what swimming should be about.

After spending ten minutes getting used to the water in the ‘acclimitisation zone’ (a small cordoned off area near the starting point),  there was a 10 minute aerobic workout (a really nice touch), then we were off.

After completing the Great London Swim

Each of the waves (races) throughout the day had a few hundred swimmers in them which made it quite competitive. Mine at 12.30pm just before lunch was apparently the busiest. At the start several swimmers went over the top of me and I swallowed some water, but I soon found a rhythm and – importantly- some space.

Many people who swim in open water for the first time say they have problems going in a straight line after being in a pool, but the layout of the course (basically three sides of a rectangle) made it much easier than I was expecting. And even if you did start veering off to the side you couldn’t miss the big yellow buoys and the pink buoy which marked the half way point.

While the first half of the race seemed to go on forever, the second half seemed much quicker and I felt I had a little more energy and even started to overtake a few people. The only problem for me was getting out of the water. I decided to wear some lovely Orca booties to cover up my toe nails which have virtually disintegrated from playing football in boots that are too small! Unfortunately this meant I had absolutely no chance making it up the final ramp and had to wait a minute while two blokes carried me onto the timing mat.

So in the end my time was 32 minutes something rather than the 31 minutes I made it. But no matter. I felt a real sense of achievement having done it and enjoyed going round the various stalls in the finish area and checking out the bits and bobs in my goodie bag, including the obligatory T-Shirt as well as more obscure stuff like Red Bush tea and flax seed (I still have no idea what this is, should I eat it or plant it?)

What I loved about the swim was the organisation around the event. It was absolutely fantastic. It’s no mean feat organising 5,000 swimmers and I think they did a really good job, explaining everything about the course as well as providing the necessary safety facilities. Within an hour all the results from my race were on the website and on Monday they sent emails to all the competitors thanking them for taking part.

While I’m not sure I’ll have time to do any more of the Great Swims this year, I would love to take part in the one in Scotland in Strathyclyde Loch on September 24. Two kilometres long (there is a shorter 500m version), it would be great to swim in the loch and take in the views. That is what I think swimming should be all about, not indoors in an overly chlorinated pool.