‘Sarah!!! what have you done!’ said Rob in his smooth South African accent as the guy at registration handed us our orange caps signifying that we were in the fastest swim group.
When I signed up for the Jubilee 10k I had no idea how long it would take – I hadn’t swam more than 800m at that point so when asked for my expected time I looked at last years results and picked a time somewhere in the middle! Big Mistake!
We looked around to gauge who else was in our group in the hope of carrying out a visual assessment of their ability and so reassuring ourselves that we weren’t crazy. There were plenty of pink caps, loads of white caps but no other orange caps! Yikes – we were stark raving bonkers!
To make matters worse … we were also given a bright orange bag for our stuff! Oh my life …I could barely swim and here I was walking around with a quasi Belisha Beacon which was screaming ‘I think I can swim better than any of you’. Arghhhhhh … I hid my bag under my wet suit and shuffled onto the waiting bus!
The start was arranged so that the the slowest groups would leave in the first few waves and the fastest swimmers would leave last as obviously they would catch up and were indeed expected to overtake everyone else! Ahhh … yes … I wondered if I should point out the slight flaw in that plan ….
After a short briefing the white caps were called forward and asked to get in the water. Rob was obviously getting nervous as his overriding concern was about his appearance in his wet suit. He insisted in deliberating his options to avoid being seen.
Should he ….
a) make like a salmon and wriggle over each weir or
b) get out and run past the feed stations at lightening speed
Hrmmm … boys! Lol
As the pink caps were called forward I decided we were going regardless of grouping. My team decided to let me go first to see if anyone told me off before venturing in behind me.
A few minutes later and we were off …
‘Go, go, go’ …
‘Hey – you can start now’ said one of the kayak crew!
Amid the flurry of foaming water they obviously thought that I had failed to hear the whistle … being an orange cap and all. Little did they know that I was actually swimming breast stroke as fast as my little legs would go … i just wasn’t getting very far very fast! Everyone else rapidly pulled away from me leaving me pretty much still at the start! Tortoise and the hare is all I’ll say!
At this point I need to mention the meticulous detail I had gone into when planning the day. Emilio and Nodge were to be our own team rescue crew on the Angus Active bike. I had packed the bike with…
Emilio had a carefully drawn map of the river and was given the instruction to cycle until he found us. In fact, I had even told him not to worry about finding us … we would shout when we saw him so he should just keep cycling till he ran out of river.
As I dragged myself out at the first weir I was met by Rob who was wearing tin foil! Hrmmm … must be plan c … cover yourself in shiny glitter foil! I was about to roll my eyes when I realised he was shaking uncontrollably and suffering from hypothermia! I decided to hug him although he didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture.
‘Don’t worry’ I said congratulating myself on my brilliance … Emi will be here soon with flip flops and emergency supplies. You’ll be fine I said stuffing my face with haribo and flapjacks from the feed station.
Initially, I waved back as they shouted encouragement from the bank side but there are only so many variations on a thumbs up that you can do within a space of 20mins whilst trying not to drown. In the end I just ignored them and focused on the 4K stretch ahead.
An hour later and some 2k on I stopped to tread water and chat to Rob on the bridge. He showed me his bleeding feet and burnt crisp back as he rasped in his dehydrated voice that they hadn’t found Emi yet and thought he must be lost!
The next part of the swim was the hardest but also the most lovely. The river is beautiful but the finish of that section was at the weir at the end of a 1.5k straight. Easy for all the front crawl swimmers but for little old me I could only stare at it longingly for the next 45 mins as I inched towards it.
Look closely for the yellow spec in the distance! Yep … that’s how I felt too!
My only shred of self esteem left was getting out at the weir and people thinking I was the first of the final wave (the real orange caps)!
I was hurting but determined (or pig stubborn as some would say)! I had swam the longest part .. the rest should be do-able! And to lift my spirits … there was little nodge with his arms open wide waiting to pull me out of the water! Of course … that’s why I do all these crazy things! To show him that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.
We all agreed to swim the final section together. It was our home stretch and our daily swim training section so mentally I thought I had it in the bag. But when I got into the water my legs just gave up. I had one good arm and one arm threatening to down tools at any second.
I realised that I could still drown and in all likelihood the way I was feeling at that moment I probably would. The river at the slough weir is apparently 18m deep? Seriously? Is that true? Rob reminded me there could be a double decker bus below me or anything ready to nibble my toes. I tried to curse but gulped down a bucket of water so gave him the death stare instead.
He dived down in an attempt to tickle my toes but my one good arm still had enough left to side swipe him around the ear as I vowed to just give up and drown right there and then if he didn’t leave me alone! Bless him! I will perhaps work on his motivation techniques in future. Lol
Anyway, the finish was in sight. Emi was given strict instructions to wait on the last bridge and take photos … which he did … almost! 😂
Breath, relax and swim I thought. ‘You have dealt with worse during training on this stretch’ my calm voice said as the angry are you out of your mind voice screamed ‘you’re going to drown, you have no energy left and everyone is now on the river bank watching you!’
The crowd began to cheer .. I was the sympathy vote … the last person swimming, the fat (but fit) girl at the back who needed everyone’s encouragement to finish. But as the wind pushed against me and my legs and arms gave up I realised I was making no headway. I was basically motionless … so much so that the crowd got fed up of cheering and slowly, one by one, drifted away lured by the tantalising smell coming from the burger van at TVAC.
With a final determined effort I made it to the finish and was hauled out by the lovely marshals. A medal was thrust around my neck and a double decker in my hand. And if you think below is just a bad photo – I promise you it wasn’t! I was in pain and physically exhausted.
However, I have to say doing the swim was one of the best things I have ever done. The river is beautiful. The people were all amazing and so supportive. The feed stations were well stocked and the marshals and kayakers were always there ready to help.
I will certainly swim again next year – although I am going to learn to front crawl and see if I can beat my PB of 3hrs 57mins! 😱
Thanks to everyone for supporting and encouraging a beginner like me! You were all fab!
See you next year.
I only started swimming in March 2017 so you don’t need to be a pro to enter this event. There were some amazing swimmers but also some very friendly people just enjoying doing what they love – swimming.
Registration is on the playing field at Thames Valley Athletics Centre just next to the car park.
There is plenty of car parking and it is worth brining a picnic as you are so close to the river.
Busses take you from TVAC to the start at Maidenhead.
You are given a bag to put your stuff in. I’d say leave valuables in your car and just carry your wetsuit and bag on the bus.
There were well stocked and clean portaloos at the bus drop off.
There is a 200m walk down a small footpath to the swim start. Don’t put your wet suit on till you reach the start as it was so warm and we had a while to wait. I got a great and affordable wetsuit from wiggle which was great for a beginner like me. (And they have a promotion in at the moment). Don’t worry – there is no rush.
Remember your bag number and put your dry clothes in the bag. The white van in the photo is the bag van and will have everything waiting for you at the finish.
Take water! There is a coffee vending van at the bus drop off which may also sell water. Stay hydrated – it’s a long swim.
Spectators can walk all the way along the river side (apart from a short road crossing). Best is for friends and family to wait on the bridges and take some fab photos that you can share on instagram #jubilee10kswim #fatbutfit
All the good Photos by Rob Gower Photography 😀