On Saturday I completed my second Great London Swim in Royal Victoria Docks in London’s Docklands.
Although I never really get very nervous about swimming, I was anxious about this race largely because the water temperature had been very cold up until a week before and I was also suffering a nasty middle ear infection – probably from swimming – which was causing me a few balance problems.
In the end though everything went fine. With air temperatures hitting 25/26 degrees for nearly a week before the event, water temperature had warmed up astonishingly quickly from around 13 degrees to 17 degrees in the space of just 10 days (just one degree less than last year though the event was much later in 2011).
This year, I was also meeting up with Jim Potter who I swim with at David Lloyd in Finchley. An old golf pro, Jim is a newbie to open water swimming but he picks up sport incredibly quickly and I saw him going from a 40 minute mile to sub 30 minute miles in the pool in just a few months (my average is currently a depressing 32 minutes).
However, like me, Jim also isn’t 100 per cent fit and is currently awaiting an operation on his shoulder. Not exactly the sort of injury you want to be carrying when you swim in open water, but then he’s obviously an extremely determined fella.
We were swimming in the 12.30pm ‘wave’ (race) with Olympic open water Silver medallist Keri Anne Payne – pictured above wearing a Speedo Fastskin 3 suit rather than a wetsuit – and had been told that ours would be the fastest race of the day. But Jim and I lurked at the back at the start, Jim obviously keen that people didn’t swim over his bad shoulder, me because I like to get off to a steady start and try and build up a rhythm.
A little choppy
Despite the good temperature, there was a nasty headwind in the docks which meant going out for the first 1Km was quite tough, much tougher than last year when it was like a mill pond. Even Keri-Anne Payne seemed to suffer a little with her time recorded at around 21 mins for the mile distance, around 4 or 5 minutes slower than expected.
As it happened, Jim and I made it around the dock in pretty much identical times – around 36 minutes – Jim declaring it one of the toughest things he’s ever done as he helped me out the water in my slippy neoprene booties (worn to keep the Thames nasties out of my feet, rather than for warmth).
I was four minutes slower than last year, but wasn’t too disappointed given the tougher conditions. I’m pretty used to swimming in the sea so I’ve learned that keeping your head down when it’s a little choppy is the best policy rather than trying to breathe too much and swallowing water.
As ever the organisation of these events was very good. It has to be with all the inherent risks involved and the Kayakers did a great job in keeping an eye on those who struggled to make it around.
Complaints? Just a couple. The timing chip on my cap didn’t work and when I asked a steward after the race whether there was a problem I was told it was just a time delay and would be sorted by Sunday at the latest (it’s now the following Wednesday and I’m still not showing up).
Also it would have been nice to have had a bigger acclimatisation area – where there was enough space to practise putting your head in the water and breathing properly. I think this is essential so you can get used to the temperature which at 17 degrees is still considerably colder than the 26 or 27 degrees you experience in typical swimming pools.
Finally, it would have been nice to have had a shower at the end of the race. Of course I realise that’s not the organisers’ fault – perhaps we could have found out a little earlier than two days beforehand though. Last year, there were showers as you finished (though admittedly they weren’t the best, more of a drizzle than a shower). This year you had to stink of the Thames all the way home because of this crazy hosepipe ban. Ironically if they had laid on proper showers that were plumbed in that would have been OK presumably, but because they were coming from a hosepipe that wasn’t allowed!
For more information about the British Gas sponsored Great Swims including those taking place in Ipswich, Manchester, The Lake District and Strathclyde visit www.greatswim.org.