Saturday 18 September 2021

Photo of the day - 18: Swim Serpentine done, and a lovely London Classics medal!

The day finally came and I swam 2 miles in the Serpentine. It wasn't pretty but I did it. Not only did I receive a medal for my efforts, but I got an extra big one too for achieving the London Classics challenge.

London Classics is a medal you get for completing the London Marathon, Ride London 100-mile cyclosportive, and Swim Serpentine 2 miles. If you have done all of these events, regardless of the year, you are eligible for a medal. I am glad they say regardless of the year, because I ran the London Marathon twice - in 2002 and 2005. I have applied quite a few times since and have been rejected. I think the times when I was accepted I hadn't realised how lucky I was. In fact in those days you would apply any time up to late September and you would get a response in mid-late November. You had around a 1:2 chance of getting a place. Now it is totally different story, with applications open just for one week a year before the event, and probably a 1:10 chance of getting a place when you factor in all the places allocated to charities. 

I have done Ride London 100 three times. That is probably my sweet-spot event, as I generally get a place given the work I do in cycling, and I can get around the route in a reasonable time without loads of training as I know the roads, and my fitness from all the other types of cycle rides and races I have done carries me through.

Swim Serpentine for me, was the sticking point. Getting a place isn't difficult as there's no ballot. However, swimming two miles was a stretch target for me. In a previous life when I did triathlons regularly I got used to doing half-mile and one-mile swims. Once I even did a half-ironman and swam a mile and a quarter. But that was a long time ago, so getting back to a point where I would feel comfortable swimming almost double the distance was going to take a bit of effort. 

This year I have probably done more swimming than I've done at any other time in my life - including thee period when I was in a triathlon club. Everywhere I went I swam: my local pools at Crystal Palace, Streatham Ice, South Norwood, then outdoors at Beckenham Place Park Lake, Brockwell Lido. Moving further out of my neighbourhood I swam in Lidos at Charlton and in London Fields. I also did more open water swimming at Royal Victoria Docks, West Reservoir in Stoke Newington, Divers Cove in Godstone, and The Haven at Feltham. On my trips up to Manchester I swam at Salford Quays and Sale Water Park. Then there were also the swim-run events at Chorlton Water Park and Box End Water Park. So yes, there's been a fair bit of swimming done this year. 

For the race I made sure to stay warm, wearing full neoprene including gloves and booties. I also had on a pull buoy to keep my legs up, and I used hand paddles. I thought I had all bases covered, but in fact I forgot to tighten my pull buoy before getting in the water and it kept swinging around my leg while I was swimming. There was no way I could have put up with that for the two miles, so I swam to the shore where the water was shallow and started to amend things. The lifeguard thought I'd gone off course, but when I explained to her what I was doing, she was okay with it. It was not a bad thing having this pause as it was also the chance to chat to the spectators and curious passers-by in Hyde Park. You don't usually get to do that while in a swimming race!

After that, everything went swimmingly (pun intended), apart from the odd moment I had to tip water out of my goggles. Sighting was not a problem (for once) as there were so many people to follow. For me, it was just a case of keeping a steady rhythm between moving my arms, rolling my body and breathing. Admittedly my pectoral muscles began to ache in the last half-mile, but it was a case of mind over matter, and staying confident.

It was great to that the marshals at the finish line were people I knew. There was a guy I had met at Royal Victoria who was there, as well as Audrey from Crystal Palace Triathletes, and Donna from South London Harriers. Thanks so much to them and all the other volunteers and the organisers for making this a fun day.

As I walked through the area to retrieve my gear from the bag drop, and get changed many people congratulated me. I hadn't realised why they kept saying it to me more than anyone else. In fact it was the effect of wearing my London Classics medal. It is an impressive looking medal, and peoeple are genuinely happy to see that folks have achieved these three big endurance events in London. And I must say I do feel slightly proud that, as per the saying on the medal (et ego Londinium vici), I have conquered London!


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