They say September is the month of the warmest water temperatures….and that was what I was hoping for for my first river swim, and one of terrific magnitude – the Dart 10k.
In the weeks leading up to the event there was a lot of rain and we heard news the river temperature had dropped to 15*C. Last year it was a tropical 19*C. I’ve been training in a reservoir at 18*C, and a pool temperature of 25*C. I was not a happy bunny.
So imagine my face when we arrived Saturday morning to the sign saying 13.5*C!
My heart sank – a whole 5*C colder than last year. That makes a big difference. 3 months of training had got my body into a decent shape to tackle the distance, but nothing prepared me for this. It was a nightmare. To give you some perspective here’s a line up of water temperatures:
25*C – Most swimming pool temperatures – feels cold when you first jump in.
19*C – 2014 – last years Dart 10k swim temperature
18*C – The reservoir I’ve been training in – slightly icey feeling on your face when you start
15*C – The week before the 2015 Dart 10k, and what we were expecting before we arrived
13.5*C – The River Dart on Saturday
12*C – The temperature most athletes have Ice Baths after big events.
I only started swimming open water 2 months ago, and this was the coldest temperature I was to face. The thought of spending 3 hours in this made me feel sick. There was more than a hint of nervousness in my smile.
As I lined up for the safety briefing I stood there like a zombie, not really taking anything in. I tried hard to keep my mental strength in tack whilst wishing that the flapjack I had only recently consumed would go further down my digestive system – it was still rolling around in my belly.
We snaked over to the water’s edge and thankfully everyone stepped in calmly, there was no rush, this was a marathon, not a race. I put my feet in – it’s too cold – but it’s too late. There are hundreds of people behind me waiting to get in. I can’t linger about – hanging around thinking about it only makes things worse – I dipped my body in and flushed water through my wetsuit – gasping. Suddenly the nervous smile I had on my face disappeared as I felt the icey water on my skin. I was in the water. That was it. I had begun.
My stroke has developed immensely throughout my training. It’s far from perfect – a stroke will always be something that can be improved – but from where I started 3 months ago I’m very proud of my long, gliding stretches, 3-stroke, alternate breathing pattern, flat, horizontal body, and a slow patter of leg kicks that helps take me through the water with as little effort as possible. It’s something that I knew I would rely on heavily to get me through the 10k.
For the first 200m this went completely out the window. The water was so cold, so icey, so painful, that I resorted to rescue-me-quick-strokes: high head, desperate to get out the cold water, low legs thrashing about wildly, my breathings short and rushed. I was in pain and I wanted to get out – I was unprepared for water this cold, I couldn’t take it. I kept my arms and legs moving, hoping that some kind of movement would help get my body warm. It wasn’t working. I looked up looking for help – looking for a way to quit. I was expecting the river banks to be covered in wetsuited-bodies of those like me who couldn’t take the cold water and wanted to get out for an early hot tub. But no one was quitting – and nor was I.
In fact the most remarkable thing happened. My body got warm (ish). After just 5minutes my panicking had stopped – my body had relaxed and my breathing had returned to normal. My head dipped deeper into the water I was able to settle into a steady stroke that would take me all the way to the finish line – I just had to carry on for another 2.5hours!
I finished the Dart 10k in 2hr32mins – greatly helped by the flow of the river. I estimate it was the equivalent of swimming 7km in flat water – so felt that I could have gone a bit further to make it more of a challenge. But the good news is, the Dart 10 miler exists – now that sounds tempting…
Here’s some highlights of the event:
12min – Realising I got to the 1st 1000m marker much faster than expected – very happy, but also confused why I was so fast!
27min – My fingers on my right hand seize up. I was swimming with my fingers wide open which is bad technique. There was nothing I could do – my hands were feeling the brunt of the cold water.
50min – I arrive at the 1st feeding station (approx 4km in). I take a quick pee break and down some lucozade and a jelly baby whilst chatting to other swimmers at the floating bar in the middle of the river.
1hr40 – I arrive at the 2nd feeding station (approx 7km). More lucozade and another pee break, this time floating on my back admiring the sky 🙂 I feel pretty good so decide to power through the last 3km
2hr – The last 3km is going on much longer than I thought it would, my arms are starting to feel the pain and my mouth is getting more salty. The wetsuit rash on the back of my neck is hurting and the salt water is not being kind to it.
2hr20 I see sight of the finish line – it looks close – I try a sprint finish but there’s not much left in my arms. The finish line doesn’t get any closer. The saltiness is making me gag.
2hr32 – I step out at the end, try to make conversation but the words aren’t coming out properly, and I remember just how cold my body is.
I collect my medal, drink my protein shake and jump straight into the hot tub.
Next day I couldn’t resist a celebratory swim in the sea.
Overall Highlight – reaching £1000+ in sponsorship the morning of the swim. Big milestone.