Category Archives: Swimming

swimathon 2017

It’s not often I compare myself to Serena Williams, but I’ve got to say I felt a like her BFF when I heard her when I heard the news about her winning the Australian Open while pregnant. While not quite a major grand slam tournament, I had just squeezed into my swimsuit and completed the 1.5k Swimathon.

I was late to sign up for swimathon this year mostly because it wasn’t taking place at my favourite London Fields Lido due to construction closures. I couldn’t get excited about swimming laps in any old pool and was flying to Canada Friday evening anyway.

But, the Wednesday before swimathon saw me open an email with a last minute discount code, looking up pools that had an early Friday start time, and messaging my trusted swim buddy Josie “Last minute swimathon Friday morning at Kings Hall Pool in Hackney?”

Probably due to our late sign up, we didn’t receive any information about the event and only had the rough hours of the pool from the (poorly designed) swimathon website. Thinking we had a leisurely 4 hours to complete the 1.5k we planned to meet mid morning and Josie even took an unplanned walking tour of Hackney round and around the leisure centre. Being the first swim in a while for both of us we needed some extra time in general I forgot my 20p and Josie forgot her bra, but eventually we made it to the pool deck!

At the poolside we caught the swimathon staff cleaning up and they let us know we were 2 hours late to start. Oops. But being generally awesome swimmer people they took one look at us and said, “oh well, let’s get you ladies a lane.” We had to promise we’d count our own laps and not cheat while the organiser went out to get a croissant, but it was the perfect set up with Josie and I swimming American style (just me who calls it that?) up and down a side of our own lane.

I hadn’t been swimming much in the past few months so started feeling it after 500m, but kept going at my slow and steady pace with a few breaks to high five Josie when we met at the ends. With 100m to go my trusty 4 year old goggles finally broke down the middle after an especially strong push off (come on we all do it) with the end in sight. My hero Josie had already finished so she waded out and tossed me her goggles to finish the last few laps.

We finished, grabbed our medals from the box and let ourselves out.

Debriefing over PB toast at a cafe across the street we decided the Kings Hall pool was lovely, if only a bit warm and in need of a bit of TLC to really bring out its unique architecture. Swimathon is always a lovely event and even without being there for ours, the staff go above and beyond to make sure you have a good experience in the water.

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run and swim and repeat all weekend

It’s the summer of swimming.

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I can’t get enough. From my first dip in the chilly Kings Cross Pond back in May to yesterday swimming in all the ponds and lido on Hampstead Heath, I think I’ve jumped in almost all the available bodies of water in London this summer.

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On Saturday morning I joined 11 other members of my running club at the Serpentine Lido to compete in the annual Serpentine biathlon. Hosted by the Serpentine Swim Club it was started to bring the people in the two clubs together. Going for 33 years now (I could be the trophy!) at the beginning it was always won by the Swim Club, runners didn’t stand a chance in the water, but with the rise of triathlons more and more runners were able to at least float, and started winning the odd year.

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The race is a 2.1 mile clockwise lap of the Serpentine and then an 880yrd skins-no-wetsuit swim (2 laps of the members-area lido). There were a few people like me who had never done the event before, a few swimmers who hadn’t run since last year’s event, and even a speedy runner using this in his Kona training. Even at 8am the sun was out in full force so we were looking ahead to the swim.

With no transition to speak of I ran in my cozzie and shorts and kept a quick tempo pace on the run to try to stay ahead of (most of) the swimmers. Made it back to the lido, kicked off my shoes, grabed my cap and goggles, walked out on the dock and jumped in the water. The first 50 metres I think I was kicking like I was still running 8:00 min/miles. Oops. Exhausted I tried to calm down a bit for the rest of the swim. If you’ve swam on a sunny morning in the Serpentine you know it’s like trying to sight into the sun. So, I kept mostly a straight line and did extra long arms in case someone coming towards me came too close.

Winner of oldest finisher :)

Winner of oldest finisher 🙂

Finishing as a respectable 3rd female (out of the 3 ladies competing, also coming second last in the entire field) I enjoyed the post race cuppa and jaffa cakes provided by the amazing Serps hospitality. The award ceremony quickly followed my exit with the Serpentine Run Club winning the team, male, and female trophies and a box of jaffa cakes to top it all off.

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Sunday saw a few of us meet up in the morning at Parliament Hill Lido for the Hampstead Heath Pondathon (now more professionally titled Duathlon, but I prefer it’s original incarnation). With £10 cash clutched in our hands ready to register we followed our trusty captain Helen who magically made it on the email list to register us in this mysterious event with no internet presence.

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It was a bit of a hurry-up-and-wait style start, but eventually we were lined up at the edge of the lido for the start in our wave 1. A quiet “go” and we were off to lots of cheers. A few seconds in I was already behind everyone else by a few lengths which would have been disheartening if it was the Olympics, but this is the PONDATHON. The only way to lose is to take it too seriously.

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3 laps of the Lido and we were out trying to slip trainers on to our soggy feet and run up the Heath toward the men’s pond. Being soaked head-to-toe running across the Heath reminded me of cross country Nationals, but then I realised I had my swim cap and goggles on, probably wont bring those come January.

Everyone and their dog gave us funny looks as we ran by. I can’t blame them. Shoes off, into the men’s pond and while doing a lap I was passed by a lot of the faster swimmers from wave 2. They might have been fast, but had no idea about swimming etiquette and swimming over someone during a pondathon is not the way to win. Out of the men’s pond and running up to the Ladies’ pond I was excited since it’s undisputed as the best pond on the Heath.

Jumping off the lovely new ladies’ pond deck and into the water was properly refreshing and the lap too short. Out again, soggy trainers back on and I said hi to all the runners on their way down to the ladies pond. The run to the mixed pond was the longest with all the hills of the heath incorporated into the route. Finally, down to the mixed pond dock and an enjoyable lap done (“Let me stay in and do it twice??” I asked the lifeguard) I found my shoes and had a little laugh at the guy standing there barefoot because “Someone took my shoes, this is going to cost me 3-4 minutes” HA. Poor guy, no world record pondathon for him.

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Downhill from the mixed pond to the athletics track and a quick 100m sprint to the finish to meet the rest of my speedy Dizzy Dolphins team. We quickly showered the pond gunk off and then set up picnic shop right by the awards ceremony and post-race food spread. Top marks for the patisseries and sausage rolls race organisers!

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The Dizzy Dolphins didn’t win any awards but we did have the most post-race food so it was a successful race for everyone.

Great Scottish Swim & Trip

Is there a more romantic Valentine’s Day present than jumping in a Scottish Loch and swimming for a mile?

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NOPE! Back in February I won two entries to a Great Swim event thanks to this fish face gif tweet. Looking at our schedules we decided to make a trip out of the Great Scottish Swim and spend 4 days in Scotland over the August bank holiday weekend.

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We arrived just as the sun was setting at our little Farmhouse B&B in Balloch and the last of the 10k swim finishers were getting out of the Loch. We met Josie down at the shores and she pointed out all the important parts of the course before we walked into town to find carbs (pasta with chips and a side of garlic bread anyone?) and beers for dinner.

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Our 1 mile wave started at 12:00 so we had a huge farmhouse breakfast and then went down to Loch Lomond Shores to watch for Josie & Katy finishing their earlier races.

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The sun started to break through the clouds just in time for our wave. The event was so well organised we were in the start pen for 11:30 with lots of time to get in the water to acclimatise (a brisk Scottish 14*C wasn’t quite the 20ish this southerner was used to) and do an awkward jazzercise style warmup.

I loved the land start to the race and even with a pretty narrow start most people had spread out so there was lots of room to find your pace. It feels kinda weird to talk about a “route” in a 1 mile lap but it was a nice out-and-back-and-a-bit which I liked as you could look at the different shores on each breath and let’s be honest, the scenery was worth a few extra seconds of race time.

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I slapped the finish gantry (Rio inspired) even though there was still about 20m to go to the beach exit. The exit was too shallow to swim but a bit too far to take many confident steps, but a lovely volunteer came out to help me up to the sandy beach.

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I swam for about 45 minutes and would have gone out to do another lap if Josie & Katy would have waited that long for a pint. After a quick change in the tents we parked ourselves on the patio of one of the shores pubs and toasted some Tennents shandys to a perfect day.

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After the swim we drove up the Loch to visit Balmaha and do a quick hike up to Conic Hill summit before another pub dinner.

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We were given cotton finisher race t shirts, WHICH ARE AWESOME! I’ve already worn this one more than any other 2016 race tshirt. Booo technical tshirts. Bring back cotton t-shirts!!!

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We spent the rest of our time in Scotland eating lunches by lochs, eating cake in scenic places, climbing up hills and finding shelter from the one brief rain storm in a re-purposed bothy.

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We snuck in one big hike on our last day before flying out of Glasgow at 5pm. We hiked up Ben Arthur in the Arrochar Alps.

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Scotland you were fantastic on both land and in water.

real women in sport

I have only seen two truthful images of everyday women in sport in the media.

  1. The moment in the This Girl Can commercial where the swimmer adjusts her bathing suit over her butt. Nothing is more familiar to a woman in a swimsuit than this adjustment.thisgirlcan
  2. The photo of the sweaty neck on the cover of Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel. Everyone who has ever sweat knows the feeling of bits of hair sticking to your neck drenched in sweat.

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That’s not to say I haven’t seen images of professional women in sport in the media, but when it comes to real women doing real sport and exercise, these two images have nailed it.

I bought Eat Sweat Play after going to a talk by Anna Kessel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (I ran 10 miles to get there so had my own authentic sweaty neck to meet dress code) and after hearing Anna read the chapter about getting changed after gym class as a teenager I was hooked. The book does such a good job balancing speaking the truth about what it is like to be an active girl and woman and highlight how far we still have to go. Most importantly I think it points out that while it’s popular and trendy to be seen as active and #fitfam (ugh) on Instagram and in glossy magazines decked out in Net-A-Sporter high end kit, there is still a lot of less glamorous work to do to get all women comfortable sweating and playing.

Her chapter on periods is the best. YOU GUYS THERE IS ALMOST NO ACTUAL RESEARCH ON HOW SOMETHING THAT WOMEN EXPERIENCE EVERY 21 DAYS EFFECTS THEIR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE IN SPORT. Like not even with elite athletes! I’m not a huge fan of the way sport tends to do things for elites then filters it down to the rest of the population, but wouldn’t UKA or British Cycling want to know a bit more what happens to their gold medal athletes bodies and how they can tailor the training to it? Forget marginal gains, we’d be talking menstruation gains!

To steal a great quote in the book from Caroline CriadoPerez, “Luckily I’m old enough and feminist enough to ignore the cat callers.” I feel the same way. The barriers to women doing sport bother me but I get more angry about their effect on women as a population rather than me, hence why my comebacks tend to include a lecture on misogyny and their male privilege (tough when you’re out of breath running the other direction…). I don’t think it’s fair for every woman to have to grow a thick skin if they want to be active and Anna does a great job dissecting what this actually means for the general population.

When I read a book I fold over the page when there is an especially awesome quote I think I’d like to go back to.  Eat Sweat Play has more than any other book I’ve read recently. Thanks Anna for writing it and thanks to the women out there eating, playing and sweating,

Henley Swim: Club to Pub

I started to write this blog yesterday but the words were not coming out as fast as the leftover Thames water in my belly from Saturday. Yes, I was finally initiated to the dreaded Thames Tummy and while it wasn’t a pretty 24 hours, I still think the Henley Swim Club to Pub was a great event!

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I signed us up for this race last year as a Christmas present and it resulted in Alex getting swim cap #2! No pressure then. Being a swim to the pub we knew it was one of the more relaxed Henley Swim events and looked forward floating to the pub.

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We took an early train out to Henley and explored town a bit before registering and setting up on the bank of the rowing club at the start. We found Claire who had cycled from London and debated the pros and cons of wearing a wetsuit for the swim. Pros – speed and floaty-ness Con – putting a wetsuit on in a 35* tent. I decided to brave the wetsuit and worked with my sweat to get into it, while Claire went for the skins option.

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After a quick safety briefing the men set off up stream for 400m before turning around some buoys and an island and joining the downstream pull back to the pub. After watching the men go off (and Claire sneaking in the last half of her sandwich!) we realised the flip flop bucket had been packed up without ours. Luckily the event director saw our confusion and tossed our flip flops into the back of the leaving van – he saved our toes at the finish thank you!

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As we got in for our Women’s Open Start wave we started to float back with the flow of the river, which was disconcerting especially when the start was delayed so a row boat on what could only be an urgent sundowners mission absolutely needed to get past the hundred or so of us.  Once we started I felt pretty good but was clearly putting a lot of effort into swimming, knowing my sustainable pace wasn’t quite that high I tried to slow down a bit but the up flow was strong enough to make me swim harder than usual.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

I’m not going to lie, I was exhausted by the time I go to the buoys. The only thing that kept me going was knowing the rest was downstream. I love downstream swimming. You feel like you are FLYYYYING with every stroke. Trying to keep my breathing in check and steady I started counting to one hundred strokes while taking some time each stroke to peak at the people on their boats watching us swim by.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

Used with permission © 2016 AWOL Adventure Ltd.

With some nice open water as I approached the pub finish line, swam under the gantry, and walked up the stairs to be given my medal and a bottle of bespoke beer before I could even unzip my wetsuit. After a quick squirt of sanitizer on the hands I found Alex and we made our way over to the river taxi to get back to the start where our bags were waiting.

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You could hang out at the pub in your wetsuit as long as you wanted and/or walk back to the club but for £2.50 we appreciated the quick lift.

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Using the bottle opener medal I opened the beer for the walk back to the pub. Over burgers in the riverside beer garden we ran into other swimming friends and spent the rest of the night chatting until having to catch the (almost) last train back to London. The endurance version of this race might be called the Club to Pub to Off licence to Train as lots of people continued the theme all the way back to London.

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It was such a great Saturday night just enough out of London to enjoy some wide-open space and water. The entry fee is a bit pricey for a 1.5k race, but it’s more about the entire day/night as an event rather than just the swim. If you’re looking for a special swim (or one that doesn’t start at the crack of dawn like most) I highly recommend the Henley Swim Club to Pub.

Jubilee River Swim

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In the summer there is nothing better than being outside all day. Being near a refreshing body of water on the first forecasted hot weekend of the year doesn’t hurt either.

My friends Josie, Helen, and I signed up for the Jubilee River Swim a few months ago with the intention of helping our long(er) distance swim training and getting to be a part of a very cool event even if we weren’t quite ready to swim the entire 10k ourselves yet. After a quick call-out on Twitter for a 4th team member, we were joined by Krista who passed our rigours application process of owning a wetsuit and promising to bring something delicious for the post-swim picnic.

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We made our way to Slough via Paddington from all corners of London early on Sunday morning and quickly registered at the race HQ. With our swim caps in hand we then realised we hadn’t quite figured out the logistics of a 10k point-to-point relay race and who had to carry what to get us, our kit, and our stuff to the finish. Luckily a guy beside us noticed our confusion and was on a team last year who said it’s best if we all went to the start and walked the route as each person was swimming.

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Teamwork makes the dream work

After a quick bus ride to the start near the world’s biggest car boot sale (an endurance event in itself I guess) we made it to the riverside start just as the sun peaked through. Off went all our layers, except for Helen’s  who was putting on more ready for the first leg of the swim.

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A quick briefing by the race organiser (head down stream, get out at the weirs, and use hand sanitizer if grabbing some haribo) the Wave 2 swimmers were in at 10:30 and bobbing around trying to keep warm. Although scorching on the banks, the water was still a bracing 14.3*C. Helen kept a brave face on during the count down and then they were off.

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We followed the swimmers along the bank, with Josie running ahead to get to the next change in time to change.

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After probably the most epic transition in swim history, we dropped Josie into the river and collected Helen to continue on our walk to the next weir.

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Each relay swimmer got their medal after their leg, which was awesome, except they were HUGE and it was very sunny. Helen’s tan lines from the day are great, and I think her neck is a little more sore than usual.

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3.6km later Josie was picked up out of the water with a huge smile on her face. “IT WAS FUN, IT WAS FAST! I LOVE RIVERS!” Krista was up next and after a quick squeeze into her wetsuit she was off past the weir and into the river. I rushed ahead at this point, knowing she was a speedy swimmer and wanting to find a loo stop before the next weir!

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The lovely people at the Jubilee River Riverside Centre let us use their facilities at the last transition and as soon as I had my wetsuit on, Krista came out of the water ready to pass the baton to me for the final leg.

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I felt like a little bit of a fraud getting into the water with the 10k swimmers and “only” 1.5k left. Most of them were so happy to be so close to the finish and one guy even gave me a huge smile as we eased in and said, “We’re so close, let’s smash it!” Even after walking 8.5km along the river and desperate for a cooling swim, the water was chilly. I started quite fast just to warm up my hands and toes.  As we swam under the first bridge of this leg I noticed how fast we were going every time I looked to the side to breath. Current assisted swims FTW!  Out from under the bridge and we just had to swim straight, I didn’t do great with sighting as I kept veering to the right of the course and then getting worried I’d wash up in the reeds. Sighting a river swim was also a new experience as the turns were harder to judge and pick a point to keep on a straight line. It was still fun and since I was swimming the last 1.5k of the race there were loads of people lining the banks cheering for their friends who were almost done.

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We swam under one last wooden foot bridge (so cool) and the end was in sight, we paddled to the right bank and were pulled out of the water by two very strong men and set up the steepest hill to our medals and snacks on the top of bank.

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Joining in with the rest of my team filling up with flat coke and flapjacks we plodded back to the race HQ to spread out on the most comfortable grass (thank you Eton) in the sun.

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Drying our wetsuits and digging into our post-swim feast we shared stories with our other friends who swam the 10k solo event.

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I had such a great time swimming in this relay event with the best possible team and friends in the race. It was great to be able to walk along the river as our team was swimming and see everyone at every transition. Sometimes relay events can be a bit lonely but this one gets full social marks.  The only time I was walking by myself I was actually walking at the same pace as this woman in skins was swimming and she had the most beautiful smooth swim stroke and it was just so nice to watch her gliding along the river. On the bank of each weir there were dozens of supporters for the swimmers and it made for a great atmosphere (and lots of people to help you zip up your wetsuit!) over the whole day.

Medals & snack holders

Medals & snack holders

I can’t recommend the Jubilee River Swim Relay enough for people who want to try an open water swimming event but aren’t quite up to the 10k distance yet. Yay for a summer of cozzie tans and goggle marks!

weekend laps

Laps get a bad rap. Everyone complains about races with laps, and no one thinks, “Wow I’m so excited to do 50+ laps of this 30yrd pool”

But my weekend was filled with laps and it was awesome.

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On Friday I did 1 lap of the Kings Cross Pond with Manda & Team Mermaids celebrating her last day of work before maternity leave!

On Saturday I stood in Lane 3 and watched Britain’s best 10,000m runners do 25 laps each in a few races culminating in the men & women’s Olympic Trials race. The men’s race was first and pretty exciting once the pacers dropped back, but none of them finished under the standard.

The main event of the night was the Women’s race with Jo Pavey wearing #1 and trying to qualify for her 5th (!!!) Olympics. As one tweeter put it, she was wearing her Exeter Harriers club vest that was probably older than some of her competitors! The race was full on from the beginning with an early breakaway group and then a few amazing moves in the last 1k by Jess Andrews. She looked SO strong through the finish it was such a great race to be right up there with my cowbell cheering them all on.

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Waking up with the sun on Sunday I jumped on my bike and glided the 8 minutes downhill to the West Reservoir for the first Splash race of the year. It’s my third year taking part in a Capital Tri race and I love them so much. They’re so well organised they seem effortless, but you know a lot of work has gone into them.

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Josie, Helen and I were signed up to the 1.5k Splash and suitably full of nerves and listing off a few excuses as we zipped up each other’s wetsuits we made our way to the dock and into the fresh 16*C water. Letting the cold water in through the neck really was the worst part as we quickly warmed up and after a quick wave we were off.

I then had the best start to a swim race I’ve ever had (including the pool trialthon last week!) Everything felt great and my breathing was spot on right from the start. I was even sighting well for the first few buoys! Within the first 100m I decided to do the full 2 laps of the 1.5k course (until then was still wavering on dropping down to 1 750m lap) and just kept riding the awesome swim rhythm I had going.

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The heats are well spaced out and not too busy (at least where I end up swimming) but I still got a few knocks and taps while people passed me, which was actually encouraging as it meant I was at least swimming on the race line! Halfway around the second lap I started to get tired and knew I should probably have trained a bit more for this one, but still finished in a good-for-me time of 41 minutes. WITH NO PANIC BREAKS!

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We hung around on the sunny patio for a few rounds of tea and to watch Alex off on his later 750m race. Seems the word is out and all the fast swimmers came out so he didn’t win this year, but we still got some extra snickers bars , therefore winners all around.

With all the cowbell ringing and swimming my arms are in pain writing this blog post, but am already looking forward to some more laps tonight at the Serpentine track session I help coach tonight.