Jubilee River Swim – my 10k challenge
How it all started
But first, let me take you back six or so months.
In or around December, an event caught my eye – a 10 kilometre swim down the so called ‘jubilee’ river, a flood relief offshoot of the main River Thames, that begins in Buckinghamshire and runs to Eton in Berkshire. It was developed by the Environment Agency and opened in 2002, the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
The first of these swim events took place in 2012, the year of course of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I imagine this accounts for why the event takes place in early June – to coincide with the jubilee anniversary – rather than in say, late August when the waters have had a chance to warm up…
(Last year, whilst I was cosily nestled up on the isle of Iona in glorious sunshine, I recall reports of foul bank holiday weekend weather across most of the country, so I’m rather glad I didn’t do it then. It was however sufficiently popular that they put it on for a second year – this time with double the number of applicants – around 200)
Anyway, back to December 2012. Having signed up to the event, roped inBen my new housemate, it was time for training.
Swimming in cold open water is little fun, especially in the winter… which is why I didn’t do any. All the same, you can’t underestimate just how unappealing it is to venture out even to swim indoors at that time of year!
The fact that the frosty weather never really abated until mid-April meant that this bitter routine was drawn out through most of the training period. The temptation to stay in one’s cosy home instead of braving the 8-minute freezing walk to Kentish Town Sports Centre, was often overwhelming.
Further, this weather knocked on the head any attempts to swim outdoors until very nearly raceday.
Even by mid-May, outdoor water was little more than 12° — very cold. For comparison, your local swimming pool is probably 25° or higher.
Early in the new year, I had my fitness more or less up to the point that I could do 1500m of crawl. Hmm, so less than a sixth of the distance. This was going to be an uphill struggle.
Well, bit by bit we did it. Week at a time, adding a few more lengths. At some point in Feb I did my first 3k – in an hour-and-a-bit. I was on course to do this in under 4 hours — the race has a 5-hour cut-off so that was respectable at least!
On 28 April, Ben and I did our first event – as part of a nationwide event, the Swimathon, we swam 5km over at London Fields Lido in Hackney. A fully heated and quite warm 50m pool, I nevertheless wanted to do some training in my wetsuit so looked a total prick, overheating over the course of an hour and half.
Our times were quite respectable: Ben 86 minutes, me 96 minutes. Happy with our results, we were beasted. Doing double distance, and in open water — without a helping-hand “push-off” every 50 metres — remained an Everest.
My wetsuit looked how I felt.
The big day
The big day finally arrived and it was a beauty! Wall-to-wall sunshine was going to all but guarantee a lovely atmosphere and warmer waters.
Our 4-man relay team – doing laughable distances of only 2-3 kilometres but on respectably little (2 session) training so don’t give them a hard time – set off in the first wave at 9:30. Here they are getting psyched up!
They jointly completed the swim in 3 hours 15 minutes — to roars of congratulations from our dozens of supporters from Coro and beyond. Thanks everyone, you really made it :o)
Ben and I set off an hour later, at 10:30, hoping to tail them but alas never caught up – they were faster than the said they would be!
The swim was divided into 4 legs, separated by weirs, of the following distances: 1.9k, 3.5k, 2.5k, 1.5k
That second one was quite a challenge and seemed to go on forever. Luckily I didn’t stop to reflect at the time that this leg alone was longer than the vast majority of my training swims.
Snack stops and trying not to drink the water
At each stop we were fed drinks and snacks. Best part of the day as far as I was concerned!
Swimming in open waters is known to carry a health risk. An alarming, and far from morale-boosting, statistic sent out by the race organisers was that of 1,000 swimmers who took part in a similar event near Hampton Court last year, over 300 contracted symptoms of gastroenteritis. Great.
At each of the stops, as well as water and high-energy snacks there was flat Coke, which is reputed to kill off any harmful bacteria living in open waters. Old wives’ tale most likely, but nothing to lose!
At the start of the third leg, after dodging various horse dungs on the towpath, we all submerged ourselves into the most fetid, honking water. I convinced myself it was just a ‘country smell’ from the surrounding fields, but I was later assured, it really was in the water. Grim.
Other than that the water was really pretty OK and temparature-wise, warmer than the lidos and lakes we’d trained in – about 14-15 degrees. With a wetuit, that’s really not too bad.
Are we nearly there yet?
I approached what I thought was the finish line, but became aware of two things: one that it wasn’t a very obvious finish line – rather tucked away with supporters not really visible until up close – and two, that there hand’t been any distance markers through any of the race. In some ways a blessing (it makes it easier for you just to ‘lose yourself’) it also made it hard to pace ourselves particularly for a ‘big finish’ which I didn’t exactly want to do until it really was all but over.
No matter, I finished and even managed a smile as I was helped out of the water to receive my medal.
Official time of 3 hours and 40 seconds. Would love to have beat that 3 hour mark, but considering what I set out to do it in, that’ll do, and gives me the excuse to have another go next year ;-)
Thank you to all my kind sponsors and supporters, who at the time of writing have helped me raise nearly £800 for Child Bereavement UK.
See you next year.