Dart 10K – September 22nd 2012

The Dart 10K has been and gone, and excellent fun it was too.  My decision to break the back of the journey the night before, and not to do the 4 hour journey on the same day of the swim was, in retrospect, probably a good one.  I had a comfortable night in a B&B in Taunton, and a leisurely 1 hour drive down to Totnes in the morning.

Parking in Totnes was not especially easy, nor were the traffic wardens especially able to use common sense.  There we go – won’t say any more.

Registration was busy, with a great atmosphere amongst the 800 or so excited swimmers.  The day was cool and fine: distinctly autumnal.

The organisation around the start was excellent.  Infact, the organisation of the whole event was very good, and the OSS are to be congratulated on this.  The four waves were set off at approximately 15 minute intervals, starting with the ‘leisurely’ group, then the mediums, the fasts, and the elites, all based on information provided before the event about pool times for a mile.  I set off with the 200 or so red hats in the fast group.  Lots of neoprene with only the occasional hardy skin swimmer (respect!).

They got even more respect once we had got in.  The Dart was not especially warm at the start.  I was glad to be in a wetsuit!  The brain-freeze only lasted a minute though, and I soon settled into a leisurely stroke.  Conditions in the first half of the race were excellent, and the views spectacular.  I concentrated on keeping the stroke long, and not going out too hard.  The bilateral breathing was working beautifully, as it did all day, apart from times when I turned it off when the going got choppy later on.

A couple of times during the race I nodded off in my own little zone and found myself separated from the other swimmers by 20 or 30 metres, particularly when tributaries came in from the right and I veered into them.  The boarder safety crew soon set me straight though, and with only a little swearing I headed back to the proper route.  More surprising was the amount of time spent swimming in shallow water so that I was actually touching the bottom with my hands.  At one point I was even beached on a corner.  Note to self:  improve navigation skills!

Feeding stations were found at 3.5 and 6.5 k approximately, where Lucozade and Jelly Babies were dispensed.  I was playing with the idea of steaming on through in pursuit of a good time, but in the ended elected to stop, take off the goggles, and soak in the atmosphere for a couple of minutes at each of the stations.  I learned that Lucozade leaves an unpleasant acid feel at the back of my throat, and that Jelly Babies taste odd mixed with salty water.

The last 3 k or so were the toughest, as the wind was blowing against the tide going out.  While the tide was conveniently assisting the swimmers, it got very choppy with the opposing wind.  I battled through though, and it was this part of the race when I felt that the training paid off.  I just kept going.  Eventually I wobbled out of the water in Dittisham, and unsteadily made my way up the beach to the timing mat, and to the reception area, where I proudly claimed my commemorative mug, filled with non-commemorative hot chocolate.

Once I freed myself from the constraints of the wetsuit, I realised that I felt fantastic!  Not particularly weary at all.  Could I have gone a bit faster?  Not stopped at the feeding stations?  Who knows?  Either way, I was very contented with my time of 2.32 which put me 78th.  What I didn’t realise at the time was that so many people were struggling, primarily with the cold, but also with the choppiness in the last couple of k.  651 finished.  I was lucky to not feel the cold at all after the first minute or so, but then I am blessed with a generous layer of ‘bioprene’.  Many people I saw at the start were not so blessed, and it is understandable that they might have struggled.

Will I go back next year without a wetsuit?  I hope so.  I seem to burn pretty warm when swimming hard.

All in all, a great day out in South Devon.  Lots and lots of people really challenging themselves with a long and hard swim.  It was much easier than I would have predicted when I first registered.  I am really happy that I pushed myself hard enough in training to be able to say that.

Next year, Windermere, Bridge to Bridge, Dart 10K again – no wetsuits allowed!

I also managed to raise £650 or so for Gt Ormond St – bonus!!  If anyone who sponsored me is reading – thank you very, very much.

The Dart 10K Is Here!

The Dart 10K, organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society is nearly upon us!  10K is 2K further than I have swum before, but I am not at all bothered, especially as the river and the tide will be behind me, especially in the second half of the swim.

There’s no getting away from it though: Totnes, where the swim starts is a long way away from Essex where I work.  If anything I am more apprehensive about getting down to my chosen B&B in Taunton on a Friday night than the actual swim.  At least from there it’s only a relatively short hop to get to Totnes for the 10 AM registration.

The swim is split into four waves: leisurely, medium, fast and elite.  I am in the fast wave, by dint of my mile time in a swimming pool, which is less than half an hour.  There’s a world of difference, however, between a warm pool in my trunks, and a 14 degree river in a wetsuit.  I would be aiming for less than 3 hours.  Let’s wait and see!

I am booked to attempt the Channel!

I was going to post about swim gadgets, but I have been slightly overtaken by events.  The main event was a week of holiday with the family.  This year we spent the week in Broadstairs in Kent, which is a Betley family favourite.  All of the good things about a British seaside resort without most of the slightly tackier things.  A great sandy beach and safe swimminig for the kids.  Of course it did have the added bonus of providing me with daily access to some lovely sea swimming, and only a hop, skip and a jump from Dover.  I took advantage of the situation, and had a swim every morning at breakfast time.

As it happened, this coincided quite closely with low tide in Broadstairs, which meant swimming quite a long way out from the beach, but I soon discovered a convenient buoy at each side of the bay.  Navigating was pretty easy once I got the hang of it, as there were convenient headlands in the distance in both directions that I coud steer against, meaning that I wasn’t having to sight the very small buoys too much.  I soon learned that at low tide there is a pretty stiff current running north to south parallel to the shore.  In the beatiful still sea that I was lucky enough to enjoy every day, I was probably swimming at around 2 miles per hour, while the current was running at about 1.5 miles per hour against me in one direction.  Clearly someone in a boat that passed me on the first day didn’t quite know what I was up to, as after about 30 minutes a fast coastguard dinghy arrived enquiring whether I as alright, saying that someone had radioed in about a swimmer ‘struggling against the tide’.  ‘Did my stroke look that bad?’, I thought to myself.  I assured them that I was OK and off they went.

Sea swimming is so different, but felt pretty good, with the bilateral breathing working very well.  I have very little experience of open water, but by the end of the week was really feeling at one with the sea.  Having said that, I was always conscious that I was out in the sea on my own, with (probably) nobody watching me, as the lifeguards were not on duty yet.  It was also cool (17 degrees) and I am inexperienced, so I never stayed out longer than an hour, just in case.

One other thing we did as a family was to pop down to Dover and meet the man who will be piloting my English Channel attempt almost exactly 2 years from now.  I have the first position on the first tide of August 2014 booked in with Chris Osmond and Seafarer II.  We located the marina early for our meeting time, so walked down onto the harbour beach.  The harbour was mirror smooth, the air temperature very warm, with just a few clouds.  As I watched the swimmers slowly traverse the harbour from wall to wall, I imagined how many hours they had spent in less clement conditions earlier on in the year, and imagined myself in their Speedos in years to come.  Inspiring and dauting at the same time.  We then met Chris who gave me the contract, and showed us Seafarer II.

Since returning from a wonderful warm and sunny week of good food and wine, buckets and spades, I have sent off the deposit.  It’s official.  There is nothing like parting with a substantial sum of cash to concentrate the mind!