After the ISOMAN 7 mile swim in Arrow Valley I felt confident with the distance, but then Summer and all its distractions got in the way, and I went ‘off the boil’ somewhat. So it was with just a little apprehension that I registered on the Friday evening. However, I was soon bolstered by fish n chips and a couple of pints at a local pub, followed by a sound night’s sleep at the golf club hotel.
Rising at 6am there seemed to be lots of time, so tucked into rice pudding, malt bread and several cups of tea. However, time then appeared to evaporate – sorting kit into ‘wear to swim’ and ‘change of clothes’ bags, haring down to the farmer’s two quid parking field, puffing back up the lane to catch the shuttle bus, followed by a tortuously slow drive along the narrow Devon lanes to the start. Tumbled out of the bus to hear the tannoy announce ‘briefing in 10 minutes!’. Fortunately Jayne and Karen were there, all changed, calm, and race ready, and able to point me towards the changing area, the baggage van, and most importantly, the start. So, after the quickest change ever, I found myself casually walking (if that’s possible in a wet suit?) towards the timing mat. Next thing, I’m tasting brackish water, and trying to get my arms into action, and settle my breathing.
The first half of the swim was marred by leaking goggles, and I had to waste time every so often to stop swimming to empty them. Then, for some reason, they were ok, and my enjoyment increased immensely, as I was now able to catch split second views of the tremendous scenery.
My general strategy was to a) keep clear of other swimmers, and b) try to pick the line of fastest river flow ‘a la boat race’ style. I think this paid off, as I was only 10 seconds behind faster swimmer Jayne at the finish, who had hugged the bank, and battled through reeds and debris in sluggish water.
Another ploy which compensated for my slow swimming was to be self sufficient at the two feeding stations. Jayne had warned me how it could be difficult to hang on in the current, and that there was a risk of missing out on a drink. So with a seven quid ‘camel back’ style bladder filled with Lucozade wedged down the front of my wet suit, and gels stuffed up wrists and ankles, I was able to feed otter style on my back, whilst bobbing down the river at an ever increasing pace – very satisfying!
The best part of the swim for me was where the Dart widened out, and Bow Creek flowed in from the west. Combined with the strong wind, this resulted in a significantly choppy section. The only way through was to bash head down through the waves, then lift ones head higher to try and snatch much needed air, whilst having a fleeting eye on the paddle boarders to guide you across.
Crossing the widest section of the Dart I was now not particularly near any other swimmers, so imagine my extreme surprise when I suddenly hit something in the murky water. I sensed a flash of yellow passing under me, and my first thought was that I had swum over a fellow yellow cap – a heinous crime indeed! I glanced back, only to see a football size, yellow mooring buoy disappearing behind me. Phew, relief, but could have done without the shock.
As the tidal current picked up I glanced at my Garmin (for the one and only time) and realised I could probably finish in under 3 hours. Encouraged, I managed to urge my tired arms to give a bit more, and even though all I had heard was the sound of my own bubbles for 2+ hours, as the finish neared there was a tangible air of excitement. The red and white caps thrashing through the field added to this, and it started to feel like a race – only I couldn’t quite see where the finish actually was. In the end, I simply kept swimming, beaching myself of the muddy bank. Stood up, fell over, stood up again, staggered up towards the timing mat, only to be blocked by a chap in a wheel chair who had just swum too – was in race mode now, so wanted to push past, but couldn’t could I?! Seconds ticked by…
Lashings of hot chocolate drink in my lovely tin mug, catch up chats with friends, burger with extra onions, stagger up the hill in drizzle, Cornish pasty en route, and a very, very wet drive home completed the day. I will return.