In early August, Lymington swimmers Sam Dale, John Vinycomb, Natalie Persson and I took part in the annual Henley Thames Marathon, a swimming race that is often referred to as the London Marathon of swimming events. It’s a mass participation, 14 kilometre, one-way swim from Henley to Marlow, attracting a huge range of abilities, with a large emphasis on having fun.
Having originally considered any sort of swim longer than about one kilometre to be utterly insane, I somehow allowed myself to be persuaded by Sam’s unstoppable enthusiasm for long-distance swimming and despite a severe lack of ability and experience, signed myself up for the event, along with our merry band of Lymington swimmers. Sam and John, having already completed several lengthy open water swimming challenges, including 10 miles in Lake Windermere, were less worried and gave plenty of encouragement and reassurance to Nat and I who were yet to cover this type of distance. Nat has a strong swimming pedigree, having spent years perfecting her pool short distance technique but is relatively new to longer open water swimming, so like me, had some reservations about what seemed like such a mammoth distance.
In preparation we did as much open water practice as we could manage, primarily at Milford and Ellingham lake. Highlights of the training were a couple of swims from Barton to Milford on the tide in glorious calm, sunny and warm conditions (a great confidence boost being swept along at high speed on a flooding tide!) and Nat comfortably slotting in an 8km lake swim despite protests of not being ready and able!
On the day nerves disappeared as soon as we started, helped by perfect, calm swimming conditions. The somewhat daunting distance was broken down nicely into four sections of 4km, 6km, 2km and 2km with enforced breaks where we had to exit the water and walk around the lock gates, eat as much cake and chocolate (!) as possible then jump back in and continue the journey. The vibe throughout was incredibly friendly and positive with all swimmers out there to enjoy the experience. I’m sure it was a bit more competitive near the front but I can’t say I experienced any of that! With plenty to look at along the river, the time passed quickly and enjoyably and by the time I was on the last stretch the reality and pride of completing what initially seemed like an impossible challenge started to sink in.
In the end, Nat was first home out of our group in 3 hours 52 minutes followed by Sam and John in 4 hours and 5 minutes then myself in 4 hours and 45 minutes. To put that in context the winner completed the event in 2 hours and 48 minutes – not something I can really fathom! Overall this was a superb event and great day out that I would recommend to anyone who fancies a fun, water-based challenge!