On Saturday 07th of December I was “invited” to participate in a 100 x 100m charity swim event. In an outdoor 50m lido on the southern side of the river (!) on a freezing December morning in London. This begs the immediate questions: what kind of invitation is this??
What kind of friends do I surround myself with??
Well, Mark Sheridan is a “mad keen” (in his own words) ultra marathon swimmer who trains with us weekly at Swim For Tri (you can read his story here, he’s not exactly the regular swimmer you encounter at the public pool). He created the event as a tribute to his budding partner Steve Wand who sadly passed away not long after that following a bike accident. In its 4th year, the event now boasts 40 participants spread in 4 lanes, all aiming to complete the 100 x 100m challenge (as originally set by Mark, Steve and his buddies). It’s a charity event with all proceeds going to Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance Trust.
This is an infamous session I have heard about time and time again over the years from my swimming and ironman circles. A set that will build not only your physical fitness but also, and perhaps most importantly, your mental strength. However I always shied away from it and never really considered it, having never swum further than 5000m in a day. But this time I said yes. It was for a good cause, it would give me some focus to train a bit at this time of the year, and of course I would be able to talk about it to my grand kids for the rest of my life afterwards.
Not willing to look as disheveled as this poor swimmer past the 5K mark, I started training with this event in mind around mid October.
The first week I did 33 x 100m on an interval of 1:40 (15 reps then 1 min rest then 18 more). A random number explained by the fact that when I reached 25 I quickly realised that I couldn’t have done much more so I gave it all until I couldn’t keep up!
On the 2nd week I did 60 (5 x 12) which was almost double!
On the 3rd week I did 72 reps (6 x 12) and even though the last 2 blocks were painful I started to feel confident in the challenge as I was hitting the 100s between 1:26 and 1:29 all the way through. All that on my own in a pool of 1.50m depth. Needless to say how emptied I felt after that session though, a feeling I never experienced before post swimming. I couldn’t do more than 2 pull ups the following morning.
I then went to Japan for 2 weeks where I swam once, for the grand total of 2000m in a typically overheated pool (not an onsen but not far). I came back in mid November with only 3 weeks to train before the event. I managed one long solo swim with 2 weeks to spare: 75 reps (5 x15) on a 1:40 interval, which felt easy until the 55th then suddenly incredibly difficult! But after that I knew I could do it.
(At this point I should add that my main aim at that time was to qualify to the London Marathon by doing a half marathon the week-end before the big swim. I’d ran consistently since the beginning of October, and had started to feel ready for the required 1:15 qualifying time…until disaster stroke 5 days before the race when I realised the stress fracture in my hip had reappeared…story of my life…)
On the morning of the event I did the trek to Charlton Lido (bike + overground + bike), met up with my fellow victims, listened to the briefing (“this is going to be brutal” is what I remember) and got myself ready. A fair chunk of the participants are seasoned marathon swimmers, quite a few have swam the channel solo and/or some other crazy open water feats.
Obviously it was pretty cold out there, not the kind of Tº to make you wanna hang around in speedos for too long on poolside, but I didn’t want to jump in too early too as I knew I would feel even colder in the water…
I did my warm/up on poolside and jumped in 1min from the start. As expected the 22ºC water temp did not make me feel any warmer than the 7ºC outside. I was in the 1:50 lane, meaning we had to do 10 X 10 reps of 100s on a 1:50 interval, each one of us (what with being 10 of us in a lane) taking turns to lead 10 at the front, before resting 1min to allow for changeover and feeding.
I started at the back of the pack with the aim of leading one the last 10s. The first 10 felt easy, the 2nd ones too, the 3rd ones too, and so on. I had experienced that while swimming in triathlon packs before of course, but this was a reminder that the difference between swimming solo/at the front and being dragged along is absolutely massive. I never felt I was putting much effort out there until I took my turn at the front between rep 80 and rep 90. By then I was more than happy to actually be able to push the pace up a bit and FINALLY WARM-UP. I’d spent the first 2 hours shivering, my fingers totally numb and wondering whether I would have to pull out. My core TºC really didn’t want to warm up at all, and every minute of rest made it even worse as I tried to grab a frozen gel or banana from the poolside with my shaky fingers. I seemed to be the only one in this case, as everyone else seemed to be comfortable on that front. One guy in the next (faster) lane even blogged afterwards that he had to train in a heated pool prior to this event in order to ACCLIMATISE TO HOT WATER. Different folks for different strokes really, or, more to the point, different body types. I knew it before and I had it confirmed then: I wouldn’t last very love if I found myself stranded in cold water (that’s below 21ºC for me)!
I won’t lie in saying that I enjoyed the event – I was way too cold for that – but I am glad I did it, went out of my confort zone and saw the end of it, even more so as it was done for a good cause. Many thanks to Mark for talking me into this.
Having never swam more than 5K before signing up for this event I also know now that it is fairly easy to build fitness from a minimal training base (2 or 3 times 30min per week) towards a long distance swim by doing one long session per week, increasing distance every week. Not that the solo training was much enjoyable, but it was damn efficient as the actual 10K on the day felt almost effortless. To be repeated perhaps, in a faster lane and hopefully a warmer pool!