With an alarm set for 2.45am, my Aunt and I nervously chatted and laid out our kit last night before heading to bed at 9pm. I find it hard to sleep the night before an event so lay listening to Lindsay Hein’s podcast I’ll Have Another where fittingly she was interviewing US Paralympic swimmer Michelle Konkoly and it provided just the right encouragement.
After a fitful night, the alarm wasn’t welcome but we’d given ourselves just 15min to get up, dressed and into the car so I couldn’t hit snooze or dillydally. At 3.01 we left the house and drove the short distance to the start area, used the loo, donned our wetsuits and left our bags at the bag drop – all very organised (we’d collected our hats and timing chips the previous night to avoid an even earlier start!). The walk to the start was about half a mile away from the race village so we kept our flip-flops on and left those in the tubs being taken to the finish line and waited for the safety briefing at 4.05am.
There were seven waves during the race – elites/performance, mens open, women’s open, oxford vs cambridge, Master’s, traditional (NO WETSUIT!!) and our wave, the sporting wave (our wave!). I was glad to be starting in the penultimate wave to avoid the mass scrum that seemed to occur in many other waves.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the 75m(ish) swim from the water entry point to the start line. Didn’t want to waste ANY extra energy 😉
Trina and I started right at the back of the pack, wanting to avoid being swum over or kicked in the face. Definitely the right decision as I felt a little panicky at the start and used the swim to the start zone to catch my breath and calm the nerves.
At 4.50am our wave started. With 2100m to cover and having not done anywhere near as much training as I thought I would/should have done, I started very conservatively. I’ve completed four open water training swims, two in the Thames, so I felt OK with the lack of visibility and temperature (although it was a rather balmy 21.5 degrees!). My sighting on the other hand wasn’t top notch – I ended up zigzagging over the course a few times… whoops.
I thankfully can breathe both sides so could sort of see how far along the course I was, and having run that route hundreds of times during marathon training, I thought I knew it pretty well. However, after what felt like a really long time I thought I was nearing the end of the course…only to see the half way marker which was somewhat deflating.
We started to catch up with the wave in front of us and I overtook some of the women with blue hats. This was encouraging as I meant that I wasn’t going to come dead last however I couldn’t see many yellow hats around so was convinced that I was still super slow.
With about 400m to go I heard people shouting my name from the sidelines and loved seeing Tom, my cousin Lucy and uncle David cheering me on. I managed a quick wave and sped up as I swam past them, although I quickly realised that I couldn’t maintain that speed and slowed back down. I never felt fully out of breath during the swim, but my arms definitely ached. As a runner I neglect to train my arms enough and could feel the burn in my shoulders and upper arms.
The 200m to go sign said ‘Sprint Finish’ – haha yeah right. I kept going on steadily until I was about 25m away and then swam as fast as I could to the finishing arch, hit my wrist timer on the board and swam to meet Tom and get out of the water.
Finished in 53.47 – within my goal of under an hour…. who knows, maybe I could complete it faster next year!
I was worried that I would feel sick during the swim but felt fine, just really thirsty. I met up with Lucy and David, cheered Trina over the finishing line and grabbed some water and hot chocolate and made our way back to the race village to collect our medals.
The race was so well organised (although quite expensive!), and had such a friendly atmosphere (especially in our wave where there wasn’t any competitiveness). I was surprised by how clear and clean the water was although I’m sure my stomach might be a little iffy after swallowing a couple of mouthfuls of Thames water along the swim.
Henley Swim organise three other races during the summer; the Henley Mile, Club to Pub and the Thames Marathon. Sadly I’m away for the rest of the events but hope to sign up for a couple next summer….have you taken part in a swim event before? Is it on your bucket list?
Huge thank you to the race organisers, volunteers keeping us safe along the course and to Wiggle for gifting me the wetsuit. I paid for my own race entry and think it was actually great value. Big thanks to my cousin, Lucy, for the photos!