This has been my A-race for the year so when asked to write the race report I was more than happy.
The Eton Dorney 10k swim is set in the most amazing venue, the Olympic Rowing lake in the grounds of Eton college. As settings go, this is as good as it gets. The long drive up the beautiful grounds quickly brought into perspective the length of the lake as it was a decent drive from one end to the other, never mind swim!
The event was well organised with decent changing tents set up and constant tannoy information ensuring that everyone was in the right place at the right time, though a sign for registration might have been handy as we managed to walk past this on the walk from the car park. I travelled up to the event with a good friend I work (and swim down at Bournemouth) with, Dave Noye but managed to find the Hedgie friends / teammates also crazy enough to enter this event with me, Glenn Fenwick and Keith Diaper.
Registration was quick and simple, though I thought I’d scored an ‘out’ when my birth details where wrong on the registration list. Unfortunately they managed to sort this out, so the swim was on! The only other downside was that I managed to score my second pink swim hat in two races, on the plus side, we all got one so I wasn’t on my own!
Before the race kicked off we had plenty of time to have a wander round the race venue and acclimatise before the race briefing. This confirmed key details such as where you get in the water, the direction you swim (anti-clockwise in this case) and fundamentals such as which bridges to turn under (and which not to). This may sound a little obvious but taking account there were 4 distances running in parallel which took slightly different routes and the fatigue you can get from long distance swimming which can be disorientating, it’s not as straightforward as you think.
We watched the orange hats 3k? and green hats 5k? go into the water and it suddenly dawned we were next! The race start was a nice low stress affair with swimmers starting in 4s, which virtually eliminated the washing machine effect you get from mass starts (both Triathlon and Swimming events), with the clock starting, the moment your race tag crossed the red timing mat. My pre-race nerves disappeared the moment I got in the water.
A lot can go through your head when you have 4 hour swims of swimming to do such as have I put enough bodyglide on my neck. I have tried a number of different things throughout the year some working better than others (from rashvests to changing wetsuit) but when you get in wrong, you really know about it (see previous attempt below), so I went a bit mad with it this time and didn’t have any problems at all.
My aim for the race was completion, though my average speed throughout the year suggested if I was constant I could break the 4 hour mark. This didn’t take account of either fuel stops or fatigue / slowing down so I kept my race strategy really simple, check my watch when I hit the bridge at the end of each lap and if I’m under (or close to) an hour on each circuit, I’d beat the cut-off time of 4.5hrs. That being said, I didn’t have a strategy if I did slow down but would cross that if it occurred.
The firstly lap went smoothly, Glenn and Dave had overtaken me at the beginning of the strait, though I knew Dave had been carrying an injury in his right shoulder which could jeopardise his swim so to see him going so well was great stuff. At the end of the first strait we turned under the bridge and it was short swim to the feed stop. I bumped in to Dave who was just setting off again as I arrived and stopped to take stock. The feed station should have been serving gels, energy drinks and water. Though at this point in time there were no gels out and I was concerned that they had got it wrong, I downed a couple of energy drinks to substitute but was a little concerned I was veering away from my race mantra of don't change anything in the race from your training. By the second lap however everything was out and I was starting to get into my rhythm (odd that it should take 2km for me to get comfortable maybe but perhaps that's why I'm not great at sprint events).
Its very difficult to keep track of where everyone is in a swimming event as everyone (bar those in skins) is pretty much dressed the same, black wetsuit, coloured swim-hat and goggles so it was strange but comforting to find myself swimming next to Keith for almost the entire second lap but then we separated after the second feed stop.
Lap 3 was gruesome and I really had to dig in as fatigue was starting to set in which meant I was starting to wander. I’d been trying to stay a set distance from the pontoon to minimise the distance to 10k but a couple of times I was definitely zigzagging as my concentration drifted. I knew if I could get through Lap 3, it would be a great psychological milestone. I was a little gutted at the amount of swimmers overtaking me at this point and a little soul destroying knowing that most of them where probably on their 4th lap whilst I had another to go which meant a mental note that I needed to spend more on my technique this coming year with the club training sessions so I could be more efficient.
I passed under the bridge to start the 4th lap at 12:18, knowing that if I kept pace, my goal was in sight. Knowing that I could have one more feed stop before the final strait was good news as it was amazing the pickup that the gels and energy drink gave and I only had to do one more kilometre to complete at this point. Setting off from the feed station, it was hard to keep the constant pace I had held for the last 9km as the end was in sight. At this point in time it was more important than ever and I had to resist the urge to keep up with a faster swimmer as it would have been disastrous to burn out or get an injury due to last minute stupidity, besides I wanted to hold something back for a sprint finish, once I knew that I could maintain it to the end.
Passing under the bridge for the last time, I switched up a gear and I knew I had given my everything once I reached the gate and dragged myself over the finishing matt, helped by a friendly marshal. Getting my finishers medal was only second to hearing my time of 3h 49 and knowing the training this year had paid off. I met up with Glenn shortly after who had completed in 3h39, and then watched the other guys come over the line in 4h, 7 mins. Fantastic results all round, with the only shadow on the day being Keith disappearing into an Ambulance for some nastily cut toes which happened at the first feedstop (you really can’t take him anywhere!).
The 10k swim distance is described as the swimmers marathon, as well as being a huge distance to swim for your average swimmer (the equivalent of over 5 half iron man swims) it is non-tidal, meaning nothing to assist you on the way round – so it was going to be tough. That said if you are going to pick a 10k swim race, this is the one to do!
I have spent most of my training this year doing sea swims building up to a maximum of 8.65k in tidal waters which was great preparation. Thanks to everyone for the support this year including Keith and Glenn’s families on the day as well as everyone I have swum with. It’s not just about the day, it’s the weeks and months beforehand where it happens.