The Swimmer returned on 12th October in its classic London form: crossing London from north to south in four swims and four runs. Good to see old friends and regulars, but also lots of new faces. The torrential rain that was forecast failed to materialise, and we ran and swam in almost summer-like conditions. We own the weather (obviously next month will be a monsoon!).
Highlights of the day were Marc and his enormous backpack (seriously, the logistics can take a bit of getting your head round, but we aren’t scaling Everest!), Katie having her customary restorative cigarette at the Serpentine, Peter’s frog feet, Hannah’s swimming hat, and Marcus and Peter’s grudge match to the finish. There was also a secret Swimmer Lite taking place, with David leading a breakaway group across London by train.
Longer write-ups can be read here by Katie, John and David, and an awesome film by Peter. What a creative bunch we are!
The end of British Summertime seems like an apt time to look back on the events of the summer. For me, 2013 was all about swimming. Last year I concentrated on running; this year, every morning I could be found at Tooting Leisure Centre with my bag of paddles, fins and pullbuoy. The goal: a summer of long distance swimming.
At first the distances themselves are the goal; then, as training intensifies (ooh, suddenly I can do a 5k training set) a time becomes a goal. A carefully planned progression of races: 3.8k Seahorse Swim, 6.5 Brownsea Island, 14k Henley to Marlow, 10k Little Red Lighthouse (NY), SLSC 107 Lengths (10k) Challenge. Distances that a year ago seemed unattainable.
Why do we do this? I know that I’ll never be Olympic standard, or even win any of these races. But top 20 is a possibility, and there is the adrenaline rush of swimming fast and strong, of pushing yourself to the limit of your physical capabilities. For a short while you allow yourself to feel like an Olympian – racing, swimming tactically. It is fun. You get out the water smiling stupidly. It can hurt afterwards, but it’s worth it. Sometimes I ask myself, why push yourself so hard? Isn’t just completing as important? Why be so obsessed with training? But I want to swim fast, I want to swim as hard as I can for that distance, and I don’t want anyone to overtake me. The training can’t be wasted. But most of all, I got to swim in some amazing places – and when I wasn’t deluding myself that I was Oussama Mellouli, I made sure I stopped to take in the view: the beaches and cliffs of the National Trust’s Brownsea Island, Studland Beach, New York traffic going overhead on George Washington bridge.
Every Swimmer is special, but last Saturday’s was extra-special. Maybe slightly shambolic in parts, but hey, that’s what we do best. It was our usual mixture of die-hards and newbies – all enlivened by the madness of our very own Bromptoning Belgians. Who knows at what point it sounded like a good idea – wake up in Antwerp, catch a bus to London, stay in a youth hostel in St Pancras, get up at stupid o’clock to meet a bunch of strangers in Hampstead Macdonalds, cycle on folding bikes round London, jump in a few cold pools, and then catch the overnight bus back home to Belgium. Of course, in the end, it turned out to be an inspired idea. Mad, certainly, but most definitely inspired. Albert and Dirk – respect.
This month we swam for the first time in the Mixed Ponds, meaning boys and girls could all swim together. Water: not freezing. Air: not freezing. Weird yellow thing in blue thing. Could it be… summer? After the Mixed Ponds we split according to inclination: some to the Men’s Ponds, some to the Ladies, others to Parliament Hill Lido. Predictably some got lost on the way, but we managed to all reconvene on the top of Primrose Hill for the obligatory group shot overlooking the City. Then my favourite part of the run – down the hill, across the canal and through Regent’s Park. – followed by Graham’s nifty little route through Marylebone (although the busy roads are always somehow a shock – who’d have thought, busy roads in central London?) and a quick nip into Hyde Park to meet Rebecca, who had cleverly forsaken running for a bus. Sensible girl. Tauni and David, having secreted their bikes in clever hiding places on Hampstead Heath, were waiting for us when we arrived.
If there’s one thing a triathlete hates more than being overtaken on the swim, it’s being overtaken on the swim by a dog. Beano did us proud at the Serpentine, demonstrating that he has been doing as much swim training as his master, burning off triathletes and then stealing their shoes. That’s my boy!
From the Serps it gets serious, although somehow the slow group managed to overtake the fast group at Battersea Park. Time to speed it up a bit, so we zoomed up the hill to Clapham, Chris and Marcus setting a nice pace, and champion marathon runner Elspeth and Abbie helping keep us on track.
Maybe it’s the run, but Brockwell feels cold. The steam room, jacuzzi and sauna soon take off the chill, as do the delicious breakfasts at the Lido café. Nothing warms you up quite like a black pudding.
It's a situation we've all faced - you're out running when suddenly you come to a lake. Why would you keep running when there's the possibility of a nice long swim? One problem - what to do with your clothes and kit. Answer? A waterproof rucksack. Now, we're not advocates of spending a load of money on unnecessary stuff, but some kit is worth getting excited about. Our rucksacks haven't even been delivered yet, but we're so amazed to have found products that fit our little niche that we thought we'd share them with you.
Not surprisingly, there isn't a huge amount of choice in the waterproof swimming rucksack market - but there are a few models available. Will has gone for the OverBoard waterproof backpack. He likes his rucksacks like he likes his men - big, strong and black. At 60 litres he should be able to swim with all his camping equipment on his back, as well as his running kit, wife and kids.
Jonathan has gone for something a little more basic. Half the size and half the price, the Alpkit Gourdon is, in the words of its manufacturers, a "strange little beast". Perfect for Jonathan then.
Full kit report once they've actually been delivered and we've had a chance to test them.
The village of Wetton sits at the top of the Manifold Valley. Grey stone buildings hunkered under a grey sky. Falling temperatures and the promise of snow. A pleasing mood of bleakness. It's all a bit Wuthering Heights.
A quick six miles before breakfast. Nothing quickens your pace like running through a field of sheep with a spaniel tied to your waist. Round Wetton Hill, the path disappearing in the mist, along the Manifold Valley cycle path, back up... oh, wait a minute... A huge cave. Thor's Cave. Beneath it the river flows under a little bridge. The valley is silent, empty. The dog is divebombing into a little pool. It would seem rude not to...
Running tights are surprisingly difficult to take off quickly. Then there is the possibility of the dog stealing my clothes (he has form). Never mind early morning ramblers. But we are under the watchful eye of Thor, so I strip off and leap into the pool. To be honest it is more of a dip than a swim, but splashing about in a river at the bottom of a deserted valley underneath a prehistoric cave sure beats the showers after running to work.
The Swimmer 6 – flying priests, cold-water virgins and the sudden appearance of a health spa. Everyone a finisher – everyone a winner! And the fastest ever Swimmer (we must be getting fitter). Truly miraculous.
Massive cheers for Sara for 'going large' and completing the full distance Swimmer for the first time. And well done Elspeth and Graham for pushing the pace for the fastest time yet (that will teach us to let an Ironman priest and a sub-3.10 marathon runner lead the way). But how come it took six months to twig that there is a free jacuzzi, sauna and steam room at Brockwell? Next month we promise sport massages from beautiful young maidens and boys...
Some people just like to be contrary... As we were glorying in our success at the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships, David was running 13 miles in the searing heat of Morocco. For some reason a weekend in Marrakech (with the little task of having to run a half-marathon) was more appealing than throwing himself into freezing water. But despite a slightly wayward training programme and a pre-race taper that seems to have mostly involved bartering in markets and over-eating in tents, he enjoyed himself so much that he wants to return next year: “Running along the old city wall, there were crowds everywhere cheering us on. Aged and hooded Berbers with expressions of incredulity. Hundreds of kids shouting. Ordinary Arabic families just smiling and waving. Soldiers at every junction holding back the tide of motor bikes, motorised tricycles, donkey carts and cars... It was the most enjoyable race I've ever done.”
David would like to get a group together to go next year, so if you fancy it get in touch and we'll pass on your details. The whole weekend (flights, hotel and race entry) cost around £350.
Well, kind of. Will achieved media saturation in an all-in-one Hulk costume (at the expense of being able to breathe); and Katie not only made the finals of the breaststroke but also get a honourable mention in the novelty hat competition for most appropriately named hat. Success doesn't get any more heady than that. Everyone else tried very hard, even when wearing dead-weight chipmunk hats.
Nice write up here in the Guardian:
Here it is - marvel at the new Swimmer poster in all its glory. We'll be sticking it up on as many walls as we can on Saturday morning. If you can think of any places where really cool people who might like to do the Swimmer hang out, let us know and we'll get a poster over there asap.
Spread the word, people!
And no, you can't have one to stick on your bedroom wall...