Bridge to Bridge 2015

I’d been building up to the swimming marathon Bridge to Bridge ever since I barely completed Swimathon back in April. I’d even worked out that the 14.1 km is equivalent to 564 lengths of a 25 metre pool.

The weather in Henley-on-Thames was sunny and warn and the water a balmy 17 degrees when I arrived at the Leander Club for the start. I was in the slowest green hatted wave setting off at 8am.

Getting in to the water

Me on the left looking down wondering if I should go home

Henley to Hambledon Lock 4km

The start was a bit stressful. There were three pace groups and I decided to go in the slowest group which was planning to average 22 minute kilometres. I had no idea if that was the right pace for me and even thought it might be a bit quick over the full distance but thought I would give it a go. A lot of people seemed quite nervous as there was the usual mix of awkward jokes (my method) and talking a bit too loud which are obvious signs of the fear factor.

Everyone started off like the clappers or so it seemed but there were quite a few people together in the group so it was hard to know if I was at the front or the back.

I was regretting not buying a tow float as this would have allowed me to swim on my own. Its main function is to make you more visible so you don’t get squashed by boats and the organisers are more relaxed about you swimming solo if you have one. I was worried if I dropped back on my own without one they might ask me to stop.

This was the longest leg of the swim so I knew it would be hard. It seemed to take a long time but I got to the lock in 1 hour 20 minutes which judging by recent swims is quite fast by my standards.

Start of Bridge 2 Bridge

The start of the green wave at 8am

Getting out at the lock there was some sports drinks, bananas and malt loaf to nibble on before walking to the other side of the lock and starting again.

Hambledon Lock to Medmenham 7.1 km

It turns out that some of the pace group were slightly behind me so I decided to start off ahead of them so if I dropped back I wouldn’t be on my own. During this leg a lot of blue hatted medium wave of swimmer passed me – they would have started half an hour behind me!

I had more space over this 3 km stretch and enjoyed it a lot more. There was a lot of dodgy sighting going on at the start with lots of people crossing over my path but now I had more space and started to relax and get in to a rhythm. I was definitely slower than the first leg here and got to the lock at the same time as the pace group who had caught up.

Medmenham to Hurley Lock 10 km

By Medmenham I was only half distance but I was trying not to think about it that much. I found this the hardest of all the legs as I was starting to feel a bit tired but also this had been the third long leg in a row and a lot of time to have your head under the water. I seemed to be a bit more on my own for parts of this leg but there were enough people around to follow so I couldn’t get lost.

It felt good to make it to Hurley Lock as I knew by now that the longest legs were all out of the way and I had 10 km in the bag with only 4 km to go.

Me swimming on the left of the photo

Me on the left

Hurley Lock to Temple Lock 11.8 km

This leg was probably the most fun. We had to negotiate the lock by swimming across part of the river on to a small island, walking through some woods and then getting back in the river on the other side. We then swam this leg hugging the bank to our left with boats tied up on the shore and some of their inhabitants looking down at us in bemusement. There were boats passing to the right of us creating a fair bit of wash but luckily our friendly kayaks were stopping them from running us over.

I enjoyed this leg as the pace group stayed together the most. Everyone seemed to be tired and so I wasn’t getting left behind and we started and finished the leg in a chain gang.

People swimming

The pods soon became more like chain gangs

Temple Lock to Marlow Bridge 14.1 km

While refuelling at the last stop our pacer commented “This next one is the worst leg”. Having swim 11.8 km and having only 2.3 km to go I certainly didn’t understand why. It seems this was because the river is quite wide and featureless on the way in to Marlow and tends to make it drag.

It felt a lot longer than 2.3 km and I never thought I would see Marlow Bridge. Every time I thought the bridge would be round the next bend it wasn’t. Eventually I saw it and reached the rowing club where I could finally get out of the water.

I was pretty pleased with myself at the finish with a time of 05:38:52. Considering how long it was taking me to swim 5 km just a few months ago this represents quite a bit of progress.

I would estimate the five food stops were between 15-25 minutes which could be taken off this. The smarter man would have timed the stops to get a more accurate time.

This was a fabulous event though which I really enjoyed and I hope I can do it again if I manage to improve my swimming a bit more. I was 02:35:08 behind 1st place so if I do this event again I want to get at least an hour off this finish time.

Thanks a lot to those people who came to cheer me on in Marlow and everyone who sponsored me.

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Great Newham London Swim 2015

With a shortage of open water swims in London I signed up for the London version of the Great Swim series.

Earlier in the year I had swum in Lake Windermere at the Great North Swim and this was a similar affair but in the big smoke. The event is at the Royal Victoria Dock which I’ve swam in as part of the London Triathlon a few times.

Great London Swim 2015

I swam it in 38:40  - chip time was 39:47 but I used my watch as it took a long time to get in and out of the water so I’m going with that instead.

Despite thinking I was pushing it harder than last week at the West Reservoir I was a little bit slower. The main difference I think was that last week I was swimming with swimmers who were mostly better than me and didn’t get in my way. These Great Swims have swimmers of all abilities and very large waves so there was a lot of traffic to deal with.

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Capital Tri Splash Race 2 2015

Ahead of Bridge to Bridge I needed some open water swimming practice so I headed to the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington for an early morning 3 km swim as part of the Capital Tri series.

West Reservoir Stoke Newington

The 3km swim was made up four 750 metre laps around the reservoir. On part of the lap there is a lot of green follage just below the water line. This can be slightly disconcerting as your hand touches ‘stuff’ on every stroke and when I turned to breathe there was the same gunk all over my face in scenes not unlike the face huggers from the Alien films.

I was quite pleased to swim the 3 km in 1:14:55. I did notice I was second to last though and the winner did it in an impressive 40 minutes.


Great North Swim, Windermere 2015

After almost drowning in Windermere two years ago I felt like I had unfinished business at the Great North Swim.

In a similar fashion to the last time the weather was unseasonably cold, 10 degrees colder than in London which was a shock to the system. The lake itself was warm though and thankfully flat.

Lake Windemere - Great North Swim 2015

I also felt a lot better prepared this time as I’d actually done some training and was taking a bit of time to learn how to swim properly. I was using this as a build up for Bridge to Bridge later in the year.

Finish of the Great North Swim 2015

It was a useful learning exercise as it was the first time I was using my ‘new’ stroke in open water. I’ve got to do some work on my sighting now I’ve changed things as it started to fall apart when got tired. I swam it in 41:22 which I was disappointed with initially but I think this is a tough event compared to some others. My sister-in-law was only a couple of minutes behind me so I’m in danger of getting beat next time!

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Eliminating crossover in a freestyle swimming stroke

One of the biggest problems I’ve had in swimming is crossover in my freestyle stroke. It’s probably been the biggest contributor to me being slower than I would like.

Crossover is when the hand and arm crosses your central plane during the stroke. This makes it hard to swim in a straight line leading to a weird snaking in the water.

Here is a rather extreme example of a chap from YouTube to give you an idea.

Coach Robb (whoever he is) explains in more detail about this and how to avoid it.

I’ve been doing this for years without really understanding it or knowing what to do about it. Now I know to keep my hand entry and bit wider and make sure my hand isn’t crossing over my centre line at any point – keeping my tracks wide like I’m ‘hugging a tree’ as demonstrated below.


Early vertical forearm (EVF) in freestyle swimming explained with video clips

I’m having some swimming lessons at the moment so I want to keep some notes around what I’m learning for future generations but also for myself.

A big mistake I have been making is with the catch. Instead of using early vertical forearm (EVF) I have been pushing my hand downwards in the water. This is highly inefficient as well and is affecting my body position in the water.

What do we mean by EVF?

This video explains the basics of it really well. I’ve been thinking a lot about a big box in front of me and placing my hands on top of it (this make sense if you watch the video). The sidekick fella also shows what EVF looks like as opposed to not using it.

This video goes in to considerably more detail. You shouldn’t have any doubt what we’re talking about after you watch this. There is some footage of swimmers combined with some fancy computer graphics showing what’s what.

Freestyle EVF drill

This is a handy drill I’ve been practicing which helped me understand EVF as well getting a feel for the water. It’s great with a swimming snorkel but you can also have a go fine without one with an occasional breath.

David Davies shows us how it’s done

This is a good clip of British 1500m and open water swimmer David Davies. I’m told the better technique comes from the longer distance swimmers as the sprinters rely on power and aren’t that chuffed about doing it right.


Sponsor me to swim 14 km along the Thames

I decided after I swam the Swimathon that I would enter Bridge to Bridge, a swim along the Thames from Henley-on-Thames to Marlow.

Sponsor me to swim Bridge to Bridge on Virgin Money Giving

The distance is 14.1 km which is 8.76 miles or 564 lengths of a 25m pool if you prefer. This video gives you an idea of what it’s all about.

There are several stopping points along the river so I don’t have to do the whole lot in one go but even so this is going to be a big challenge.

At the stopping points I will have a chance to get out and have a drink and stretch my legs. The longest sections are at the beginning with the first three 4km, 3km and 3km.

Bridge to Bridge route

Click image to view larger version

At the Swimathon I swam 5km in 2 hours 53 minutes so I’m likely to be a long time in the water. I’ll keep this blog up to date with my progress but I would be mighty obliged if you would consider donating a few quid to my chosen charities St. Christopher’s Hospice and Veterinary Benevolent Fund via my donation page.

Sponsor me to swim Bridge to Bridge using my online fundraising page


Swimathon 2015

Swimming has never been my strongest suit so for the sheer hell of it I decided to do a really long swim but in a pool to minimise the chance of death by drowning. Open water events can be awkward like that.

Swimathon is an annual event run since 1986 in local swimming pools across the country. There are distances of 1.5, 2.5 and 5 km and I thought I would do 5 as otherwise it would be too easy.

I managed to raise a few quid for Marie Curie Cancer Care in the process.

This was a real test of mental endurance more than physical. All you have to look at is the bottom of the pool. When I fell asleep that evening I closed my eyes and could still see the black lane line. There is also very little sound other than your own breathing.

Swimming is very slow compared to cycling or running and I wanted to get used to this with a view to maybe trying some other events later on in the year.

Crystal Palace pool

I completed the 5 km in roughly 02:53:00. I was a bit surprised by just how slow I was. There was only one other person in the pool by the time I finished.

All seemed fine climbing out of the pool and receiving my medal, walking to the changing room and getting changed. About half an hour later I was in the pub and all seemed fine until I tried to pick up my pint glass which felt like the weight of a rhino.

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A tribute to Mark Bell

Back in 1991 when I was a chubby teenager my brother bought home this LP with mysterious yet flashy artwork. This LP was placed on the record player in our dining room and a low toned vocoded voice spoke:


What is House?

Technotronic, KLF, or something you just live in?

To me house is Phuture, Pierre, Fingers, Adonis etc

The pioneers of the hypnotic groove,

Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

This album is dedicated to you.

Listening to this and the looking at the sleeve I thought this must be from Germany or Detroit as this is where all the good stuff came from. I was absolutely bowled over when I realised that this music came from Yorkshire and was made by two blokes in their bedrooms. The album was Frequencies by LFO and was produced by Mark Bell and Gez Varley.

The third track Simon from Sydney is one of my favourite tracks of all time. There is a dull tom-tom in there which sticks out like a sore thumb as the rest of the sounds are so synthetic and futuristic but it’s probably the highlight of the track. When I turned thirty I wrote a post summarising my life as a playlist and had to include this tune.

The Frequencies album is a masterpiece, the best and most important album ever produced on Warp Records. It was albums like this which launched that label from a chin scratching niche imprint to the all conquering indie music/film label it is today. Without Frequencies would Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada be so well known now?

I had to wait an incredible 5 years for a second LFO album. Advance was good in a different way having come after the Artificial Intelligence series but still very much in the same vein.

Around the same time Mark Bell released the Speed Jack album on R&S.

Mark Bell’s talent for production was getting noticed. He worked with Björk on her Homogenic and Volta albums as well as the Dancer in the Dark film soundtrack. It was the perfect marriage as Bell didn’t dumb down or attempt to smooth the edges off what he did and Björk is not the type to ask him to. Seeing someone as brilliant as Mark Bell in a mainstream context like Later with Jools Holland was magnificent.

He also produced the Depeche Mode album Exciter. He must have loved this as they were one of his biggest influences.

I’ve never heard Mark Bell speak and know almost nothing about him but I know that I have found his music some of the most inspiring and inventive I have ever heard. I consider myself lucky to have been around during his music career. I’m very sad to hear of his death.

Mark Bell RIP

“If I were to say who has influenced me most it would be Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Mark Bell.”
- Björk