The Thames Marathon, also known as the Bridge to Bridge and held this year on August 6, is the last and the longest in the Henley on Thames swim series. It’s 14 kilometres, downstream from the bridge in Henley to the bridge in Marlow.
I had swum three 10km events: the Dart 10km in 2014 and. Om 2015 and 2016 the Kielder Marathon. I signed up for Henley as soon as registration opened (IN ?) and I vowed to be better trained for this than for my previous long-distance events.. My programme started at the end of January. The plan was to increase the distance gradually to around 30 km per week. Of course, this didn’t happen. It is very hard to pack this mileage in a week given the variables of pool access, time available, stamina and avoiding injury - especially as I am 63.
I ended up averaging 20 km per week before the event.
There were 643 registered swimmers divided into four waves. The speedy swimmers in pink hats left first followed by the blue hats. The steady swimmers were in green hats and those swimming in groups in yellow. The organisers stipulate wetsuits but applications can be made to compete in skins. All needed to wear tow floats. The swim is downstream so the river flow is a consideration. I had been watching the flow rate in the previous week but unfortunately the speed of the current dropped considerably the couple of days before the swim.
We registered at the prestigious Leander Club in Henley. We were given our swim hats and timing chips and the briefing. The anxiety levels of fellow swimmers was palpable. A lot of people looked very worried. After all, you don’t know you can swim 14 kms in a river until you do it and most had not attempted this distance before. For me, I was anxious but this anxiety dissipated, as usual, once I was in the water. We left at 15-minute intervals starting at 7:45 - pink, blue, green and finally yellow. We were ushered into the water 10 minutes or so before the start. Of course I was one of the first in. I’m not sure whether this wait is factored into the final time or not. I suspect the more experienced Henley Marathoners popped in at the last minute – a tactic that also ensured they were are the front of their wave.
We registered the evening before in the Leander Club
This swim is advertised as ‘sportive,’ the emphasis being on completion rather than time elapsed. For me there was a 20-minute time difference between my actual swimming time and my recorded time for the event. This is unavoidable as we often had to queue to get out and back into the river depending on swimmers and river traffic.
After a very crowded start we seemed to naturally swim in small groups. Spectators could follow a walking route and meet swimmers at each of the three feeding stations. There are four stages in the swim with exits to cross locks. Stage one was 4 kms from Henley to Hambledon, stage two 6 kms from Hambledon to Hurley, stage three 1.8 kms to Temple, and stage 4 was 2.2 kms to Marlow. Feed stations were located at each stop.
|The pink hats are off!|
|The blue hats (my wave) are off!|
The first leg of the swim was surprisingly easy. Everybody said this. There must have been some current then. We climbed out of the river, had a few snacks and a drink and encouragement from supporters and popped back into the river to swim the longest leg of 6 kms. Again this didn’t seem TOO hard. Out of the river, more snacks and a drink and off for the 1.8 leg, which saw us cross and exit the river on the other side. By now it was late morning and the river traffic was getting a bit heavy and the water a bit choppy. This made the last 2.2 kms more challenging. My arms were aching a great deal. At the finish, I climbed out to be greeted by having a medal placed around my neck and applause from the spectators. What a wonderful feeling! A feeling of immense achievement. My time and position were available immediately and I was presented with a goody bag. I managed the swim in 4 hours 11 minutes, including the 20 minutes of getting in and out of the river. I was very happy with that time. I had, like most others, done enough training after all!
|Climbing out at the finish|
|Feeling pretty pleased with myself at the finish.|
The swim is superbly organised and executed. From signing up for the swim through to getting the results. The water safety was first class. The kayaks were with us the whole way, herding us out of the way of boat traffic. The rubber dinghies sped up and down warning river craft of our presence and providing help for swimmers who needed it. There were people there to help us get in and out of the river, which really was much appreciated! There was a good range of snacks: muesli bars, salty crackers, a host of sweeties and bananas at the feed stations, a veritable buffet. I was particularly impressed by the celebratory atmosphere at the finish. There were plenty food outlets. The wood-fired pizza van was very popular as was the coffee stall. We opted for Quorn sausage buns which really hit the spot. Then it was on a coach back to Henley.
|My new favourite hoodie|
Before this swim I said this would be my most challenging swim, that I’d scale back after this. With all the hard training and the pre-swim anxiety this is understandable. But the feeling on completion is amazing. So where from here? First, I have to shed the weight I put on during the couple of weeks before the swim. I think I may have been a bit too prolonged and enthusiastic in the carb loading phase of my training. I have the Coniston end-to-end 8.5 km swim in a couple of weeks. After that swim in the Lake District I vow to get stronger. I have puny arm muscles so I’m going to try Body Pump classes to improve that. I have also signed up for one-way Windermere swim with SwimYourSwim in 2018. This is 16.5 km swim – without any current assistance, so a bit of a step up. So much for scaling back!