Ok lets get this straight; Of all the sports I do, swimming is not a strong point. In fact neither is cycling or running; somehow I just manage to stick the three together!! So, when a friend John Rothery mentioned lets do Henley; he kept the detail to a minimum !!!
14k swim, 3 waves, green, blue and Pink. Green wave was the first timers. Blue, intermediate swimmers. Pink – the elite, the Top Guns of Swimming, the ones with abs !! Lord Rothery assigns us all into the Pink wave!!
To be fair, living by the sea means there really is no excuse for not getting out there and smashing up some really great sessions. And that we did. “Shoreline Saturdays” become almost legendary – with a good 3 mile swim followed by a full cooked breakfast in Shoreline Cafe in Saundersfoot.
As the weekend arrived, we shot up the M4 and stayed with my brother in law, who lives about 10 miles out from Henley. He is the Worlds greatest host, I don’t mind a pint and this mix had potential disaster written all over it. Somehow we managed to avoid the immediate party…
To be fair, this was very much the unknown for me. The wheels have fallen off in the past on the bike and on runs, therefore I know the signals and know how to react. Henley was completely new. The only strategy was behave before the race, pace it and hope the training takes me home.
As we arrived in Henley there was a real sense of calm, many sipping coffee; if there was a sense of fear it was very well hidden !! Personally, I felt odd. It was not a race and the cut offs were huge so I knew that there was no pressure; 14k of swimming was a long way, keeping those arms moving, getting nutrition right and staying focussed.
Green wave was up first and we watched as they meandered up the river and out of sight. Then the blue wave went through their routine and we watched until they too were out of sight. Then it hit me like a truck. As I looked around, there were a few of us left sporting the pink cap!! The athletes I knew or recognised were “proper” swimmers!! Competition swimmers, masters swimmers, representative honours swimmers…….and me !
Captain – you may have dropped the ball on this one !!
We hit the water – then gave a final wave to my children and Sarn my brother in Law – whom was setting off for his full cooked breakfast !! Lord Rothery then turned and inflicted a few more words of Northern wisdom on me…something like…… Keep up !!! Bang…. we were off.
I breathe every 2 strokes and tend to sight on 10. I settled into a nice rhythm, within 10 strokes i had lost the pack, within 20……. I had the river to myself !! I let out a smile; time to settle in and get to work…
First feed station – It was the first time ever…I was the last one there! Then I saw someone still taking on food. A little jog, quick sip and back in – Not last….that monkey was off my back !!
Over time I caught the blue group ahead and started to move through the pack, no longer anywhere near the back!! But it really is almost spiritual out there. Once you settle in and realise this really is not about places, speed or competition – it is simply a group of like minded idiots, being very privileged to swim down the Thames!
Amazing buildings you simply have to stop and look at, the water felt soft against the face, tree lined waterways, river boats passing and supporting and volunteers at the feed stations that were simply superb! As the km’s ticked away and the body tired, I really wanted this swim to carry on. It was so calming and relaxing…until about 1k to go.
One of the Kayak team shouted “finish line is just around the corner!”
Hammer time !!! Well for about 2 mins…and it wasn’t around the corner, or the next corner!! The neck was tight, shoulder blades began to scream and the muscles decided if I did not have a Peroni in my hand in the next 10 minutes they were going on strike !!
Then, there it was, the finish line; the lads were there too (Got there just before me!!!!) Also My mum, Dad and Brother had travelled to surprise me on the finish line. It was superb! Felt great. Achieved a huge milestone. Learnt loads about distance swimming. And to be honest it was one of the best tasting Peroni’s I had drunk in a long time !!
If you have the weekend free – Do it. Lots of time to get through the event; its really relaxed and you will get to meet some great people. If I am not away next year; I certainly will be trying to get a place once again.