More than any other event that we have ever done or been involved with, the newly re-branded Thames Marathon (of Bridge to Bridge fame) elicits the most shock and awe from those less accustomed to the antics of us open water swimmers. We say antics, but of course these days it feels less “naughty” than it used to, and more mainstream (pun intended!).
But way back in the day, in August 2004 to be precise, it definitely felt covert, with just two of us coyly passing through the three lock cuttings with our best stealth mode free-style turned on. We fully expected to be scolded by our good friends at the EA for doing something so daft, but actually, even back then, we were very conscious about safety. We always had a boat or a canoe, and we grouped together with brightly coloured hats. We even thought-through the protocol of which side of the river to swim, opting for the way our canoe cousins choose to do it, facing the traffic.
Happily these days things are a little more organised, and safe, with the emphasis leaning towards a sportive type event, which still feels right to this day. And as things evolve and improve, so too have our methods used to try and mitigate dangers and keep everyone as safe as possible. After much soul searching and debate we have finally decided to make tow floats compulsory – it seems this is by far and away much more popular than making it wetsuit compulsory. Having said that, we still prefer wetsuits from a safety perspective, but being neoprene agnostics, we bend over backwards to accommodate at least some die-hard skins swimmers.
So what is it really like to swim 14K? We’ve always found the endeavour surprisingly do-able, and we put that down to several factors. First and foremost is the fact that you swim with the stream. But anyone local will tell you that can be virtually nothing some years. Perhaps then it’s the fact that by definition you need to get out 3 times to pass though the locks, shake your shoulders and generally loosen off. We also take this as a great opportunity to feed everyone, and cunningly, a chance to monitor some of our colder swimmers. If someone strikes up a conversation with you, it’s for one of two reasons – they either fancy having a chat, or it’s because they want to make sure you are coherent in what you say. A grumpy demeanour with confused and slurred speech are all excellent early warning signs of hypothermia. Our marshals are a jolly lot for sure, but underneath it’s a bit more serious than some realise.
We find the spread of times from a little over two hours up to six hours plus a really good test of people’s mettle, but did you realise that back in the “early days” a few of us swam from Henley to Cookham – a full 7K longer? That’s not on the cards any time soon, but we are thinking about it still.
As we always say to the doubters or worriers out there – have a look at the finishers and see the smiles. It’s clear a feat of this distance is within many a swimmer’s range, but why not make absolutely sure and either volunteer, or walk the course on the day – it’s all covered by The Thames Path and you can still enjoy the fun at the end.