Surviving the swim
In the space of 18 months, I completed three marathons and two ultra distance marathons.
Sprinkled in between these were a handful of half marathons, ten milers and 10k races.
As someone who was not born to be an athlete (my legs are wonky, despite major surgery as a child), it was an incredible experience to be able to push my limits and achieve what I never believed possible.
And then the biomechanics of my legs told me to stop. Various injuries, including a nasty ankle sprain, brought an abrupt end to my running career.
Shortly before I hung up my marathon trainers for the last time, I entered an open water swimming race.
It was an effort to mix things up a little and improve my upper body fitness, giving my sore legs a break between long races.
That was five years ago. On Saturday morning, I returned to the same river for my second swimming race.
I was much better prepared this time. In 2014, my training had consisted of a few sessions in the local pool, and one in a lake.
Ahead of my race on Saturday, I have been swimming 4-6km a week in a lake, gradually improving my fitness and speed during that time.
I drove down to Littlehampton on Saturday morning, ready to collect my race pack and have my number written on both hands in permanent marker.
It’s fair to say I was a little nervous.
The race I had chosen for my return was the River Arun Swim, an Ironman distance 3.8km swim downstream in the second fastest tidal river in the UK.
After a race briefing by the quayside in Littlehampton, we were driven upstream in a coach to the holding area in Ford.
There was a long wait there for the second batch of swimmers to arrive by coach before we walked down to the riverside and entered the water ready for the start.
The water was cold. Very cold. I’ve been used to swimming in a relatively shallow lake that has been warming up nicely in recent weeks, despite the absence of British summertime.
Thankfully, a daily regime of cold showers and a few minutes to acclimatise before the race start meant the water temperature wasn’t too much of a shock to the system.
With the horn sounded, 440 swimmers started thrashing the water and heading downstream; I had forgotten just how noisy a mass swimming start like this was!
I was underway and into a comfortable rhythm within a few minutes, finding clear space in the river and doing my best to avoid colliding with other swimmers.
One big learning point from this swim was to learn some landmarks on the river in advance, as I didn’t have a clue where I was or how far there was left to swim. It wasn’t until I reached the red footbridge in Littlehampton, that I was confident I could pick up my pace as the finish line was within reach.
Unlike my finish in 2012, I felt pretty good climbing out of the water and up the ramp. My legs hadn’t turned to jelly on this occasion, and I hadn’t suffered from any chafing around my neck – saltwater and neoprene are usually a killer combination!
I was pleased to finish in 1 hour, 5 minutes, and 22 seconds, in 360th position out of 440 finishers.
To put that time in some context, first out the water was local Junior Tom Hogg from Littlehampton Swimming Club in 42:25 followed by another local Veteran Andrew Gowland in 44:49 (Tuff Fitty Tri Club) and Andrew Huckle from Waterlooville in 45:26 who’s in the Vintage category.
First female and an impressive 6th overall was Sarah Wylie (Swimming Solutions) in 45:38, Lily Davis from Atlantis SC in 46:22 and first Junior & then Sam Nesbit from Southsea in 46:57.
Filled with a newfound confidence that I can still do crazy things like this, I rushed home to enter a slightly longer swim at the end of August, the River Adur 5km.
I also have an entry to the River Dart 10km Swim in September, which is the swimming equivalent of a marathon distance. Lots more training needed between now and then.
Photo credits: Sussex Sport Photography