A catch-up trip to see my brother and his partner in Rutland was long overdue, so I packed Mother into the car and headed east. This weekend away ‘accidentally’ coincided with the Swim Rutland event I’d already entered where a 2 or 4 km swim was offered, I’d chosen the shorter distance.
Recent emails had explained comprehensively how things would work, my plan was – 2km swimmers would arrive at Whitwell on the north shore of Rutland Water at 06:15, wetsuited up to my waist with a T shirt on carrying my swim bag which would be issued at registration, catch the Rutland Belle (a ferry charted especially for the event) which would then unload us all at the start point of Normanton Church on the south shore. There I’d have a last lube up with body glide, squeeze an energy gel or two inside me, stuff my drink bottle, flip flops and T shirt into the bag hand it in to the bag drop marshals and meet up with it later after my swim back to the finish at Whitwell, as all the bags would be loaded in a transit and sent off that way.
However the email also said there would be no trouble switching distance, I’d completed 3.8km less than a month ago at the 226, so I planned to arrive extra early Sunday morning check conditions and decide on the day.
Big Brother is lucky enough to live only 10mins from the man made reservoir which hides the sunken village of Hambleton, he mentioned the church spire is just below the surface when the water is low so I should tuck myself in well or swim on my back over that area, (it seemed funny when he said it)
Sunday morning came and I was up and out of his home at early doors without waking the rest of the household via two pieces of toast and the smoke alarm. He would drive the womenfolk to the event later for 08:00. He said he’d bring his reading glasses as by then I would still be close enough to view.
The registration tent was swallowing a steady stream of competitors, behind it the ferry was waiting, the water definitely had waves moving from the west, flags and tree leaves were fluttering in a sustained breeze apart from that conditions seemed fine. So 2 or 4 km? We’d watched Mo Farrah last night trip, fall, recover, and win gold so with the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Wetter” ringing in my ears it was time to do the decent thing, I left registration sporting my white 4km swim cap with yellow wristband and watched the blue-capped 2k wimps board the Rutland Belle destined for their swim not worth getting out of bed for. I suppose as a cheapskate I just wanted my money’s worth, it was also compulsory to wear a swim tow float, you could hire one for £3 or buy one for £12 I decided to buy one so total entry fee was £50.
The plan now was to join the 272 swimmers at Whitwell, swim a dogleg route to Normanton Church turnaround and swim back to the start/finish. With so many at the briefing it was a little hard to hear with earplugs and cap on but the course lay in front – keep the yellow pyramid buoys on your right shoulder swimming south and the orange on your right on the return to the north, two floating pontoons in the middle were there for a breather and water – Simples.
The 07:00 start was delayed a good 10 mins waiting for us to get in the water as all had their number checked and recorded beforehand. Tow floats were everywhere and the mass start was crowded rather like the AV Parkrun start only wetter, there wasn’t much point in me being in front of anyone so I stayed to the rear I didn’t know what time we set off but I fired up the Garmin under my swim cap and struck out when the horn sounded.
Visibility was quite good and I could see the bottom until it got deeper than about 6 foot, everywhere luminous hands and feet on rubber clad limbs sliced and kicked trailing bubbles, boxed in left and right and soon I was touching someone’s toes in front, my pace slowed and legs sank a little then came a clobbering from behind. Checking the surroundings seemed a bit surreal like a scene from ‘Titanic’ thousands of people in the water, in reality there were 272 which looked double with their bobbing tow floats.
My plan now was to swim on the left hand edge of the column of swimmers heading south so hopefully by the time the westerly waves got to me they’d be broken up. The triangular buoys came and went and seemed like giant Egyptian pyramids looming over from my low angle. The pontoons were reached but they were a little way off from the course and I didn’t want to waste time and energy swimming out and back to them, maybe on the return swim?
The pontoons were at the dogleg point so the course turned slightly left, it was now full ahead to Normanton Church clearly seen through sighting snapshots. Faster swimmers having already turned ahead and 2k starters were now on the far right heading North to the finish, I stopped to take in the scene clinging to a yellow triangular buoy, I felt like I was standing on the central reservation of a motorway, traffic heading south in three or four lanes a gap in between the buoys then the Northbound carriageway. There was nothing to stop me just swimming across the small gap cutting the course short and heading for home, our swim caps were all numbered but surely the traffic cops in their canoes and stand up paddle boards wouldn’t notice? The hitch-hiking Garmin under my cap said he’d blow the whistle and grass up my little secret later- so Southbound it was and the first time I’d been to Church on a Sunday morning in a good while.
Splashing out on my port bow showed a swimmer who’d moved wide to get clear water and was now coming in tight to take the turn at the halfway point. Rather like a paddle steamer there was lots of arm movement and splashing but little forward movement from him which must be why he was still level with me at the halfway point. Further split second glances left revealed we would soon collide, after nearly two seasons of open water I’m quite comfortable swimming and saw no reason to give way and let him through as I had the racing line. ‘Shields up. Red alert’ (I love Star Trek) We swam round the two buoys as if in the same wetsuit, a safety canoe keeping station at the turn leaned over his paddle and looked intently at the two-headed four-armed swimmer. The up close and personal swimmer now steamed off wide to the left never to be seen again.
Heading for home there wasn’t much else to do than knuckle down and think about stroke technique, after a long period of concentration without sighting I looked up, startled to find an empty body of water, the shore way off in the distance, I’d strayed off course and all the action was behind me including a safety canoe who was even now adjusting position to cut me off should I somehow end up swimming to Melton Mowbray, more frequent sighting was needed. I gave him a thumbs up and swam embarrassingly back into his fold, Wilson my newly named orange tow float slunk behind, and if you don’t think it possible for anyone to swim embarrassingly then remember you weren’t there.
Presently there were men walking around on top of the water! In reality I’d reached the pontoons and a couple of marshals were handing out drinks to swimmers clinging to the low rafts. I still didn’t want to stop and just needed to plough on through the waves which had returned now I’d rounded the dogleg it was comforting to know I had the tow float, I’d even stopped a few times to check it was still there as Wilson didn’t drag catch or snag the entire swim, I’d contemplated deflating it a little in order to use as a pull buoy to help my sinking legs, then thought it would probably prove quite tedious to blow it back up whilst drowning should the need arise
By now swimmers had threaded out into ones and twos their tow floats and hand entry splashes lead the way back to the giant white registration marquee easily seen in the distance against the green of Rutland this reminded me of the venue for a popular BBC cooking program, in between that and me a gaggle of blue-capped breaststrokers were bobbing their way to the finish. I vowed to catch them before they got to The Great British Bake Off tent, can you draught off a breaststroker? I could certainly feel the pressure waves from their kick but surely this would push me back not carry me along? I eased past them on the right only to be ambushed as one switched to front crawl and powered off towards Mary Berry.
I was beyond caring as nearing the shore below me weeds could be seen soon my fingertip catch could touch them and the crowd sounded great, I landed my feet on the stones sliding by underneath and water drained out of the suit to waist level as I stood up. Nonchalantly removing my swim cap I stopped the Garmin GPS as a breaststroker bustled past heading towards a red carpet which was actually floating before leading up the bank to a finish gate. I cooly dawdled up the carpet only to be met by two marshals with clipboard and stopwatch they informed me my official time would be posted on the website in a couple of days. Awww Man. if I’d known I was being timed I might of took the carpet at a sprint whilst elbowing the cheeky blue-cap to the floor. Another surprise was at the finish, Matthew my son and his girlfriend Laura who live in Spalding were there, the start time was too early but they were now only too pleased to be there having taken embarrassing video footage of me bumbling around in the water.
4km course total 272 swimmers, winning time – 51mins 49secs.
2km course total 149 swimmers, winning time – 30mins 40secs.
Philip Hall 4km – 1hr 33mins 40secs placed 221.
A well organised event with both distances well catered for plus you can keep your options open until the day. A medal, drawstring swim bag, swim cap, bananas and bottled water on finishing.