The fetid smell of goose poo was overpowering. The lake at Upton Warren was having a bad day. I breathed it in and plunged into the warm soup. Every Wednesday of 2016’s summer I had forced myself to swim an ever increasing number of 400m laps. On the Wednesday before Sunday’s Dart 10K swim, I’d finally made it to 12 laps. Not even half the Dart distance. Over time I had become acclimatised to the murkiness, the rich bouquet of fermenting waterfowl waste and the DEFCON 5 panic of swimming into something as innocuous as a leaf. Thankfully, the paralysing fear of an imminent pike attack had never taken hold, so I was free to exclusively focus on every muscle twitch, which must be the start of debilitating cramp leading to an embarrassing rescue from the water. It’s fair to say that I found the training pretty challenging.
Finally the Dart weekend arrived. I transitioned from Slimfast shakes to solid food and managed to eat two main courses at Prezzo the night before. So much for dieting shrinking your stomach. Martin Potter had recommended salt tablets to hold cramp at bay, so I salt-loaded for a couple of days and drank litres of tonic water, which I find about as palatable as the essence of goose at Upton. I’d opted to swim in the fast wave, which turned out to be a mob of testosterone-fueled blokes who wanted to battle their way to the finish. There won’t be a next year, but if there was, I would start in a more leisurely wave and try to find clean water at the front. Jayne, Jeff, Julie and Lorraine had all swum the day before and reports were coming in of rough conditions.
The horn sounded and 150 of us charged into the Dart. It was cold. There had been opportunity to enter the water before the start and fresh rainfall on Dartmoor had washed away the warmer water. It was at this point that I wished I hadn’t just used the public facilities. No time to even think, we’re hammering across the river with people colliding in a neoprene frenzy. There’s no attempt to pace what is a distance event. The scenery along the Dart is stunning, but I couldn’t have told you that on the day. I went back a week later and took a boat trip down the river to experience what I missed on the day. My focus was exclusively on maintaining my position in the pack and trying to find a comfortable rhythm.
It wasn’t long before we caught up with the back-markers from earlier waves. No prisoners were taken. The white-hat army ploughed through in a sea of foam. Before long we had reached the first of two rafts. Plenty of swimmers were hanging on whilst the lovely raft-dwellers fed us jelly babies and Lucozade. After that it’s a bit of a blur. I remember seeing Agatha Christie’s house and there being a really choppy bit, but it was basically just swim, swim, swim.
The river opens out before the second food raft and I finally settled into an easy rhythm. There was room to swim alone and plenty of slower swimmers to overtake. Overtaking is always a joyous occasion, whether it be on a bike, running or in the water. With only 2.7km to the finish from the second raft, I relaxed in the knowledge that I would be able to finish this swim. Although the last section seems to drag on forever, adrenalin, salt tablets and jelly babies was enough to power me home. That and the thought of fish-and-chips on the sea front. My wife, mum and Poppy were at the finish to greet me, although spotting me was pretty tricky amongst hundreds of identically dressed swimmers.
Obviously this review is a bit of a salty tale. There’s only so much you can write about such a well-run event. The organisation is amazing. From the moment of registration to the free hugs at the finish. Most importantly, there was never be a single moment where you could feel you were in danger. An army of lifeguards expertly shepherd you down the river. All you’ve got to do is swim… and maybe enjoy it a little.