My swimming marathon
I wanted to share my experiences of swimming the Dart 10km swimming marathon early in September. For those that don’t know times a swimming distance by 4 and you get the running equivalent so a 10km swim is more or less the same as a 40km/ a 26mile run.
I was having a motivational low with my swimming, I’ve swum at national level but no longer swim 4hrs a day - it started to get more like 4 hours a week! I needed to kick start my training so I took a breath and entered the Dart river 10km swim. I had 6 months to train and prepare.
It was a shock to the system to get back in the pool 5 times a week and steadily clock up the mileage and I struggled at first to find the time. The time is there however if you find out where you're wasting time and if you make the odd sacrifice. Having got into the habit of going to the gym more since graduating, it was tough to watch my hard fought size burn away as I swam more and pumped iron less and less. My body composition changed and I got slightly fatter.
After about 2 and a 1/2 months Injured reared its ugly head as a received a bruised rib from some ridiculous bare knuckle boxing with one of my friends. Don’t ask. This put me out of training properly for about a month. Still there was a lot of gentle drill work that I could do and some leg endurance work in the gym. After another month of getting my base aerobic fitness even higher I think that by taking the time to slow down and do the drill work my swimming actually improved more. It just goes to show that with a proactive attitude you turn a negative into a positive :).
Around this time I travelled to Tri UK, jumped in their swimming treadmill and ended up getting myself a decent swimming wetsuit. This meant I got back into sea swimming! I would recommend going there if you are into triathlon or open water swimming - I think they are Europe’s biggest triathlon shop and their staff are helpful.
After a few more weeks of high intensity sets and longer swimming both in the sea and pool I start my carbo loading regime. Some people like to do a really exhausting bout of exercise to deplete carbohydrate stores before they load but I just tried to cram in a close to 10g of carbs per kg of body weight a day. This is hard work and requires you to eat when you don’t want to (I tried to eat around 710g of carbs a day.) I planned to swim the 10k in 2hours 10mins which is slightly longer than your carb stores are generally supposed to last, (approx. 2hrs) and going at a heart rate of around 160-166BPM and so it was important to get the fuel in.
So race day approached…
Please comment below if you have competed in anything or done a marathon and tell me how you prepare for a race! For me it involves scoping out where I will be competing so I drove down to where the race was going to start and finish the week before. I also like visualising the start of the race and imagining different scenarios, in this case getting my goggles kicking off or pulled back by my legs or getting lost and how I would respond to these events in the actual race so I’m prepared if any of them actually occur. I also imagine getting out that water and being able to tell myself that I really put everything into that performance.
Race day! So we arrived at Totnes with 100′s of people preparing and trying to find a parking space. It’s amazing how many people freak out and let their minds paralyze them with worry before a sporting event. Parking was a nightmare and I saw lots of people freaking out just because they couldn’t find a space, some people were already making excuses about it doesn’t matter how they do! Most people train for a long time to do a marathon of any kind and it amazes me why they give up before they have even begun. Remember how well you have prepared and keep focused!
I was more nervous than most competitions I have been in as I have never competed in open water despite having a lot of experience swimming in rivers or the sea. There were 4 waves of swimmers, the scenic wave, the moderate wave and then fast and elite waves. The slowest wave started and then the moderate wave, fast wave and elite wave followed in 15 minute chunks. I was in the elite wave and so would be entering the water last.
Everyone was ‘sussing’ the others out and sizing each other up, which is to be expected from athletes of any sport. I don’t know about you but I don’t care if who I’m racing is a giant or skinnier than me I just do my own race and use others of a similar ability to help push me.
It was the first time in over 13 years that both my parents had been able to come and watch me. My girlfriend and some others close friends came to support as well which fired me up!
As soon the the gun went I rushed in and was first into the water from my wave. One other swimmer tried to stick to my right but I surged in front to try and avoid the mad melee that you can get caught in at the start of Tri’s and open water swims. 200m into the race and I was about 80m ahead of my wave and 60m ahead of who was to become my main competiton. I gave my loyal supporters a quick wave and put my head down.
A friend of mine Steven Hurley came 3rd last year (despite having missed both feeding stations and getting lost mid race) to the swimmer who was now close behind. Adrenaline pumping through my body I risked the occasional look back to check I was far enough in front to stop him from drafting me. (This is where athletes lurk just behind and to the side of the person in front to run/swim/cycle/drive in their slipstream and saving huge amounts of energy.) I knew that if he stuck with me until the first feeding station (where energy drink/water/sweet foods are given to help get the carbs in) he would likely stay with me the whole race. He had done the race at least once before and so knew the swim better than me.
It was time to try and break his motivation
I decided to swim the first 3rd of the swim faster than I wanted to so I prevented him from drafting and to try and mentally knock him down. I think it worked, by the time I left the first feeding station having downed my first lucozade I saw him come in, short of breath and frantically shouting for some lucozade. The river started to open up after about 20mins from the first feeding station and I started to catch up with all the previous waves, mostly from the fast wave that left 15 mins before my wave.
This was really, really motivating as although I was tired, I was weaving in and out of slower swimmers and leaving them behind. It was a struggle to try and sight suitable landmarks on the land (this is so you know where you are going) however I made a decent course through the river. I knew there was a massive stretch lasting 3km near the end where the river opened up to be about 1km wide- not the best place to lose direction of where your going!
I starting picking up the pace even more as wanted to get to the second and last feeding station asap. From there my plan was to blast the last section building up pace until a sprint for the last 1/2 mile. I started to worry and think that I had missed the last feed station like Steven last year however I suddenly saw it to my left. I swum there and downed another bottle of Lucozade. Holding onto the pontoon I realised that there was actually quite a strong river flow in the main part of the river. I took about 10 seconds to get some good breaths in and then pushed off for the final third!
By this stage there was a huge trail of 100′s of swimmers trying to hold their pace, luckily for me it gave me a decent idea of where I needed to go. I stayed just to the left of the huge queue of people and started to wind up the pace. I had practised swimming 80x100m, 40x200m and set’s like 1000, 2000, 3000, 2000, 1000m on the pace I wanted to go or faster to try and prepare me for this moment but it still hurt like hell!
After a mile or so I began thinking where am I? this stretch doesn’t seem to be getting any less fat away! I also realised that I had drifted massively to the right and probably put an extra 5 minutes onto my time! This is where I thought to myself what if the guy who was not far behind has now overtaken me? I’m sure you all have had similar doubts when competing. I just said to myself: pick up the pace even more and if he beats you then fair play to him as I can’t go any faster here without cramping up!
After another 15 mins or so I saw the final bend and tried my best to swim close enough to side that I didn’t overshoot but stayed near enough to the middle of the river to get the maximum flow of the river. It was agony, when would this bend finish! I kept giving myself targets of groups of swimmers I wanted to over take. By this point I had overtaken practically all the slowest wave and the medium wave, and was closing in on those in the fast wave I hadn’t already overtaken.
I looked up again to see the finish banner and the supporters and then sprinted to the finish where swimmers were trying to get out the water. I rushed out the water across the timing chip to get my time recorded. My girlfriend, parents and friends were there and all congratulated me, After a few hugs and back slaps I looked around for anyone from my wave.
There wasn’t anyone out yet - I had won the whole event!
After a few minutes I saw my main competitor rush out the water and after he had composed himself I went and congratulated him. He was a bit annoyed as he just missed out from winning last year by a few seconds and now to me by only a few minutes. If you read this-thank you sir for a great race and helping me push myself as hard as I cold and well done again!
After getting changed and relaxing and eating a well earnt pasty we all went our seperate ways and went home.
Thank you to everyone who helped me train and gave me support on the day. It was a great experience and one that I won’t forget.
I hope this post will instill some motivation that you should go for the things you want to do, even if you are initially unsure. I also hope that it serves as a reminder to try and see the positive of a situation. Things have a habit of working out!
I'm not doing the Dart 10k this year however I wish you all the best of luck! Please feel free to check out any of my other posts on my blog, and of course if you have any questions please do get in touch: