Monday 2 August 2010

Nokia Thames Swim race report

We rose earlyish, 7am, and had a fortifying breakfast - I had malt loaf with Nutella on it and a mug of tea.  Arrived at Kingston; me, Mr TOTKat and Mr TOTKat's mum; parked the car and headed for the ferry which would take us to the race start.  We got to the jetty at about 08:05 and the next ferry wasn't to leave until 08:30, which was a bit annoying but not too bad really.  The ferry ambled us towards Hampton Court at what was almost certainly more than 4 knots (tsk!) and we got a good look at the swim course.  The half-way buoy seemed a bit closer to the end than it should have been and there seemed to be not all that many large buoys in evidence.
The ferry dropped us off near the race start which was a pretty nice facility of marquees in a field off to one side of the river.  Race registration was pretty tight in terms of identification and chipping etc. and we didn't have long before Mr TOTKat was due to start so I queued for the loo with Mt TOTKat's mum while he got ready and was whisked off to the start.  Mr TOTKat's race start time was 20 minutes before mine, having put in an estimated race time of 01:20 where I'd put in an estimate of 01:10.  I was not long after called up to the race start and had to fight my way into my wetsuit with assistance from Mr TOTKat's mum before leaving her with our kit bag to meet us at the finish, 2.25 miles further down the river.  (In hindsight, we should have used the kit bag transport service, but hey, you live and learn.)

Near to the race start, there was a holding area where each wave of swimmers were gathered and penned in together before the race chips were checked to verify they worked and matched up with the number on your chest and swimming cap.  Then it was into the water, over to the buoys marking the race start for briefing and photos and a 5 minute wait (in deep water, as in you can't touch the bottom) before the off for my wave.  Lots of photos and a hooter honk later and 100 of us in yellow cap wave were off.

A very thrashy start with lots of people jostling past me, where I'd made my way to the front for the start, only to be overtaken by me a few minutes later when they found they'd gone off too fast and had to slow down a bit.  Falling into a rhythm quite quickly meant very very slight hyperventilation all the way through the swim as I ended up breathing every 2 strokes (it was quite cold and the wetsuit, while very very well fitting, did restrict my shoulder movement which meant more effort per stroke required than usual all contributing to more breathing required) where every 3 would be better but I can't do bi-lateral breathing at the moment (need to practice).  There was a surprising amount of jostling all the way through the swim, mostly people coming in from the sides of the route where they'd gone off course a bit; the water is extremely murky so you can't see a thing about where you are in the river without doing proper sighting ahead of you.  I managed to get away with very little sighting as I do swim pretty straight without it.  There were a few times when you could see the bottom as it was so close, close enough to scrape your hands on a a few times even.

Not much water got taken on board until well after the half way marker, which came soooo much later than I expected it.  Half way came and went and the yellow wave started to pass some of the white and green waves before us and the odd pink one.  And then came Raven's Ait - in theory almost the finish.  Except it's aaaages away from the finish when you're swimming at around 1.6 knots.  And that's when I first took on some water - the course narrows around the left side of Raven's Ait and lots of swimmers get close together and create a lot of splash.  Then there were lots of pleasure boats between there and the finish, raising wake and causing a couple more mouthfuls of Thames sludge.  At this point I got bad cramp in my left ankle.  I do suffer with cramp in my feet a lot, which is pretty tolerable, but when it goes into my ankle it's extremely painful and causes a bad spasm so my foot goes club.  I knew I was a good 10 minutes from the end, so my only real option was to speed up, despite creating quite some drag with my left foot being at a funny angle.  I switched stroke to a more efficient, slightly more effort catch which zoomed me quickly past people who'd been level with me for the last few minutes, really picking up the pace.

The finish eventually hove into view and the race marshall with a megaphone was shouting something utterly inaudible when you're in the water with a swimming cap on.  Thankfully I heard during the race briefing that we had to go around the final Nokia buoy before heading for shore and the exit.  So I aimed for the buoy, got close enough to it and aimed for shore, having problems seeing how far it was away I broke into breast stroke for the first time all day and slowed down quite badly until I heard the marshalls telling me to mind the step on the exit.  I saw two girls in front of me on the exit ramp, on their hands and knees and thought "blimey, I know it was tiring, but seriously..." and then I stepped out with some help from a marshall.  Only to almost fall over through incredible disorientation and balance loss.  I staggered, weaved and wobbled my way up the ramp and around to where there were people handing out Lucozade Light and actually took some despite not liking Lucozade at all.  The disorientation and lack of balance was incredible and thankfully I saw Mr TOTKat quite soon and found somewhere to fall on my arse and sit down for quite a bit to get over the dizziness.

It took a while to find Mr TOTKat's mum in the crowds, but thankfully we'd been given a race finishers' t-shirt to put on which helped stop Mr TOTKat from getting too cold in his tri-suit where I was still quite warm in my wetsuit.  We dried and de-mudded our feet, put some clothes on over our swimming suits, had a protein shake and a fruit&nut bar before heading home in the car, to get showered and some much needed tea.

Watch time put my race at 01:16:11 and the official timing was 01:15:55. - 34th in my age and sex category.  Fastest woman overall was Keri-ann Payne (Olympic 10km open water gold medallist) at 00:47:50, "only" 28 minutes faster than me, so that was pretty pleasing.  The overall winner was Michael Adams at 00:42:33.


  1. Well done, this is so inspiring!! Great recap.

  2. Wow.

    Massive respect to anyone who can swim for a length of time at anything above sedate breats stroke pace!

    Was it not incredibly cold or did the wetsuit prevent it?

  3. Definitely a bit nippy, but a combination of wetsuit and working pretty hard swimming my (average heart rate of 171BPM, peaked at 178BPM - HRmax is 192BPM, so that's reasonably high average over 75 minutes) kept me plenty warm enough while actually swimming. The Environment Agency said the water was about 20.5C on Friday, so that's not tooooo bad. Swimming pools are usually 27-29C, for reference.

  4. Wow, well done again, your time is awesome! You must be over the moon with that achievement. It sounds so tough! x

  5. Great report Kat. Am seriously impressed by your swimming. I'm thinking of going the tri route next season, so if I do, I'll definitely be hitting you up for some tips!

    Hope your shoulders are feeling a bit better.. :(