Book Review: Waterlog by Roger Deakin

It seems fairly apt after my first open water swim of the year (read about it here) that I write a review of a book that is all about open water swimming.

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If you love swimming, especially open water and wild swimming then this book is for you. Roger goes on an odyssey around the UK looking for places to swim. He begins by looking for historical places, swimming holes and spot where people have swam for generations. He looks for lidos, unheated ones, big ones, small ones and even a triangular one, although so many lidos have been permanently shut down, which is a real shame. Last month I had the chance to swim in Hampton Pool Lido (read about it here), wich was very busy, even on a cold April morning. Back in it’s heyday, Morecambe used to have a really large lido, now sadly gone. Grange-over-Sands still has it’s lido, although closed, however there are attempts to re-open it, which would be fantastic.

Roger write about swimming across estuaries, down rivers, through lakes and lochs. He also chats to everyone about where and when they learnt to swim, finding some great new places to try out, and also finding secret swimming holes that had been forgotten about for many years.

He also swam in places that I knew quite well. He visited Oxford, where I lived for many years, and swam along the Thames, or the Isis as it is known in the city of spires. Roger also swam under Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale, although he declined to jump off the bridge.

There’s also an undercurrent of officialdom, for example by the Environment Agency saying the water might not be safe. As Roger pointed out to them, isn’t it their job to make sure that the water is safe. Roger also writes about perfectly good swimming spots where you’re ‘not allowed’ to swim because the water is owned privately, either by landowners for fishing, or by a school. This is nonsense of course, but Roger does suggest that the Scottish Right to Roam Act could be used in the UK for our waterways.

I took my time with this book, dipping in and out when I felt like it, and I made plenty of mental notes of places that I would love to swim.

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First Open Water Swim of the Year

It’s that time of the year when the triathletes pull the wetsuit out of wherever it’s been hiding, struggle into in and gingerly tip-toe in the cold dark water. For the last six or seven years I’ve been open water swimming with the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club in a small lake near Carnforth. This year, due to various circumstances, the swim venue has moved to the Capernwray Dive Centre. Less hassle for the club and cleaner water, although no revenue stream. I don’t think the club were every really welcome at the previous venue, especially in the last couple of years. The only drawback of the new venue is that the water is colder. I have swam there a few times, most notably in the dark for the Fireworks 500, where the water was seriously cold (read about it here).

Last year I think I only swam open water four times; once with COLT and then at the Salford Triathlon (read about it here), Isoman (read about it here) and the Hurly Burly (read about it here). This year both me and my beautiful wife are planning to swim most weeks.

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Last night at the Dive Centre the water was cold, and as usual I struggled until I was nearly at the second buoy, but then I started to warm up and get into my stroke. I pushed it a little faster for my second lap, knowing that I was going to call it quits after two. Most people did at least three laps, and one hardy (foolhardy maybe) swimmer went in without a wetsuit. Yikes!

I had a chat to the club captain as I watched my wife swimming, where we reminisced about how our very first time open water swimming was in a triathlon. John’s was at the Windsor triathlon, while my first time was at the Swindon triathlon in 1995. Fortunately things have progressed.

Overall a good swim if short, but I will aim to increase the distance each week. I might see you there.

Hampton Pool Lido

Last week my beautiful wife, her eldest son and myself ran Bushy Park parkrun (read about it here). Afterwards, Tom suggested that we go for a swim in an open air lido. Tooting Bec lido is the holy grail of lidos as it is 33 yards wide and 100 yards long. Unfortunately it’s not heated and it’s only open to members until 1st May. We therefore headed to Hampton Pool lido. It was fairly expensive and quite busy, but it was fantastic to swim in, although my Garmin couldn’t cope with it’s length of 118 feet. It was also a great way to relax the legs after parkrun.

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Amazingly, this wasn’t the first time that I’d swam in Hampton lido. I completed three sprint triathlons there, one in 1995 and another two in 1996. I was working and living in Oxford at the time, which isn’t the that close to Hampton. However, the reason I did these triathlons was because they were held on Bank Holiday Mondays and at the time I worked in a pub and generally had to work Sundays.

I’ve even managed to find a couple of photos. The one below was from 1995, back when I had hair on my head instead of on my face.

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The other photo was from 1996, back before tri-suits had been invented, and everyone used to race in their Speedos. In hindsight, tri-suits could possibly be the greatest triathlon innovation of the last 20 years.

Hampton Pool 1996

My overriding memory of the race in April 1996 was how cold it was. When I got off the bike my feet were blocks of ice and I couldn’t feel them until near to the finish. Also, how young do I look, and back then I didn’t have a single tattoo.

This year will be my 28th year of triathlons and I still love doing them as much as now as I did all those years ago. I’m also aiming to race the Kendal sprint triathlon on my 50th.

Swimming somewhere new

I can’t be the only person who really doesn’t like going to a ‘new’ pool. Once I’ve been a few times I’ve generally got it sussed, but the first time always freaks me out a little. I’ve been doing triathlons for close to 30 years, and I’ve moved around a fair bit in that time as well, so I’ve swum in some great pools and some terrible ones.

The thing is, until you’ve been in the pool you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. Additionally, you don’t know when the best time to go will be. Generally the early bird swim is a good option. Will the changing rooms be village style or separate rooms? Will the showers be rubbish? Will I have the correct change for the locker? Will the pool suck? How long will the pool be? Most pools are 25m, but when I lived in Chichester the pool was 33 yards. I could never get used to it, although that is better than many gyms which boast about having a pool; invariable they turn out to be 15 or 20m long, if you’re lucky.

I was on a triathlon training camp in Cyprus and we had the chance to use a 50m open air pool. Fantastic is all I can say about that. I think the nearest 50m pool to me is in Manchester.

Two and a half years ago I started working in Leigh. I borrowed the car on a Monday so that I could go for a swim before work. The pool in Leigh near to the rugby league ground was one of the worst. The water was very warm, the pool was always busy and the ‘fast’ lane wasn’t. I soon found an alternative pool to swim in before work in Howe Bridge. The water was cooler and it wasn’t as busy, although there was a complete lack of lane etiquette, as I blogged about at the time (read about it here).

The reason I mention this was because last week I was visiting my Mum in Salisbury, and as I didn’t have my bike or running shoes a swim seemed like the logical alternative. Less than 1km walk there is a very large sports centre with an 8-lane wide 25m pool, open at 6am. The early opening suits me as I’m always awake at that time, but the price wasn’t to my liking; £5.95 for a swim, plus 20p or the locker which was non-refundable. Between 6 and 8am half of the pool was reserved for the swimming club so the other lanes were a little busy. The one drawback (apart from the price) was that I was slower than everyone in the ‘fast’ lane and quicker than everyone in the ‘medium’ lane.

Last year my job moved near to Bolton and the pool in Horwich is one of the best that I’ve used, which is another reason why I don’t intend to look for a job somewhere else.

May your pool be nice and cool and a lane all to yourself.

Medals, Medals, Medals…

You love a medal, I love a medal, everyone loves a good medal.

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I don’t have the largest haul of medals by anyone’s standards, but I have been noticing a trend over the last few years, in that medals are getting more ‘bling’. Just look at the medal that I received from Howler events and the one from a winter open water swim. Both very nice.

The very first medal that I received was way back in the mid-eighties at the Yorkshire Individual schoolboy cycle speedway championships held in Heckmondwike. I didn’t do very well but I can remember being chuffed getting a medal, even if it was a bit small.

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Another trend that I’ve noticed is medals for virtual challenges, specifically for running, but I’ve also seen them for cycling. This involves signing up, paying your money, and then if you reach the required target they send you a medal. I’m not sure how I feel about ‘buying’ medals. For that reason I decided to sign up for a virtual swimming challenge in December from an organisation called Swim the Distance.

I ambitiously signed up for the 40k distance, paid my £12 and got swimming. With it being December I had forgotten that the pools would be closed for a few days and that I would also be busy with family. Obviously I wasn’t going to get anywhere near to 40k, but you’re allowed to email to request to change target, which I did. I dropped down to the 20k challenge, even though on New Year’s Eve I went swimming with my beautiful wife and clocked 30k for the month.

You have to send some kind of proof that you’ve completed the distance, so I used the ‘print screen’ function to copy proof from Strava, and then a couple of days ago I received my medal.

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Very nice piece of bling it is too. I might sign up for the January challenge, especially as I’m trying to have a ‘swim’ month.

 

 

200 Miles of Swimming

With my final swim of last year I managed to tick over the 100 mile mark for the year. This year I have managed 200 miles, with a couple of months to spare. Why the big increase? A couple of reasons. My wife has changed job which means on the days that I borrow the car I don’t need to drop her off at work first. This gives me a bit more time in the morning to get to the pool. The other reason is that I’ve also moved office, and the pool at Horwich is quicker to get to and is open better hours.

I’m not particularly quick, my technique is a bit rubbish and all that I’m good for is a long steady swim. I really hate drills and at the moment I’m really enjoying just getting in the pool and swimming for 90+ minutes each time. I’ve also put on a bit of muscle on my chest and shoulders, making my legs look even skinnier.

Next year I turn 50 and I’m planning a couple of epic races to celebrate, so it’s good to be getting in the mileage now, although I could do with more cycling. One of the things that I love about triathlons is that you can swap about with the disciplines and concentrate on different ones during the seasons. I would get very bored if I was ‘only’ a runner, cyclist or swimmer.

Hurly Burly

What’s the Hurly Burly, I hear you cry? It was a 10k open water swim in North Wales organised by The Outdoor Swimming Society, who also put on the more famous River Dart 10k.

I’ve been swimming more this year than ever before, but I was still nervous as we headed towards the event, especially after Isoman (read about it here). The swim at Isoman was supposed to be 7 miles, but it based on other peoples Garmins, it was most likely about 12k. It was the hardest swim that I’d ever done, the longest swim I’d ever done and by far the longest non-wetsuit swim I’d ever done. I will stick to wearing wetsuits from now on (read about it here).

The Hurly Burly is set in the village of Barmouth, and goes up the estuary with the tide, advertised as maybe the fastest 10k swim you’ll ever do. I was hoping that it was as I didn’t fancy 3 or more hours in cold water.

Me and my beautiful wife decided to make a weekend of it, staying in a pod at the excellent Hendre Mynach campsite less than a mile north of Barmouth. After the Satnav had a moment of madness we made it in plenty of time. We walked along the beach with our unruly pointer, Nelly, into Barmouth so that I could register. Nelly loved the beach.

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Registration was a bit chaotic, as expected with almost 800 people taking part, but once it had been done we had a walk around the town.

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End of September, and the weather was fantastic. We walked back along the beach the campsite and had an early night. Even though it had been sunny all day, overnight the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, so we were happy in our snug little pod.

Coffee and breakfast, followed by another gentle walk into Barmouth. The swim wasn’t the only event, there was a run-swim, with an 11k run from the finish back to the start before doing the swim, and just a run from the start to the finish. I had decided against the run-swim as I wasn’t sure how much time there would be between the two events. In the end there was almost an hour from finishing the run and starting the swim, so I would have been OK. We cheered on the first runners returning to Barmouth before I changed into my wetsuit and dropped off my bag to be transported to the finish. The organisation couldn’t be faulted with so many helpful volunteers. I was also cheered by how many people seemed to know so many others, it all felt like one big family.

Photo by Jess Rose

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With so many people the start was split into four waves, slowest first, speedy people last. The start was also very relaxed. Over the timing mat and a gentle walk into the water, the complete opposite of a triathlon start. Maybe the fast wave ran into the water with gusto, but the wave I was in definitely didn’t.

Photo by Jess Rose

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The initial shock of the cold water took my breath away, even with my beard, but it felt good to be off. Within minutes we were under the bridge. Quite a few people rolled onto their backs to wave at the hundreds of supporters on the bridge as we were swept with the tide.

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My wife and dog were on the bridge as they were walking to the finish, although I didn’t spot them. Nelly had a bit of a fright when a train went past, but she has been known to be scared of her own shadow.

The timing of the swim is difficult. If the swimmers are set off too early then there won’t be enough water in the estuary, too late and the tide will turn making the last section very tough. After half an hour I spotted a few people standing up, and then my hands started to drag on the sand. I walked with everyone else for a few moments, taking the opportunity to look at my Garmin. 3000m in 30 minutes! I put it down to GPS error as there was no way I could have swum that quick. I continued to swim, guided by paddleboarders and jetskiers.

Photo by Sian Lane

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There was a feed station at the half way point, which I completely missed, thinking it was a boat. I was a little concerned when I looked at my watch on the next sand bank and it said 7000m. If I hadn’t seen the feed station by 7k it was going to be a very long swim. There was one final sand bank at 9000m, where the tide was so strong that I couldn’t stand up.

We rounded a corner and I could smell the bonfires at the finish. This was very welcome as my hands were numb with the cold. Minutes later and I was climbing out of the water, handed a blanket and a welcome hot chocolate. I quickly changed and soon managed to get some feeling back into my hands. There is no way I could ever swim that in skins, so I doff my hat to those hardy folks who did.

Photo by Jess Rose

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Once changed I hunted for my wife. There were stalls with cake and Helen had the money. It had taken her longer to walk the route, but when reunited yummy cakes and coffee were purchased. The organisers had put on buses to transfer everyone back to Barmouth, although Nelly isn’t too keen on buses, which she let everyone know by letting out a truly noxious pump. Thanks old girl.

Back in Barmouth and I inhaled fish and chips before heading back to the campsite for a few beers and another early night.

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My finishing time on my Garmin was 1 hour 36 minutes with a distance of 9661m. My official time was 1 hour 39 and 133rd. Without doubt the fastest swim I will ever do and probably the equivalent of a 5k swim in a pool. I loved the whole event and will definitely be back in 2019. Helen has also stated that she intends to have a go as well. A medal or some bling at the finish would have been nice, although a blanket is far more practical.

I can’t recommend this event enough. If you’ve ever fancied a longer swim, this is the one for you. If you can manage an Ironman swim then you can easily complete the Hurly Burly. See you all next year.