Race 3 of 3: a swim in London’s Docklands

Phew. My third and final race of the week was the Great London Swim, part of the British Gas Great Swim series. I was asked by “Sportsister” magazine to take part and cover the event for their publication and website so, like the Windsor Triathlon, I won’t do a proper write-up here (I’ll post a link to the Sportsister story when it’s online).

Suffice to say that I was a bit tired, standing there on the side of the Royal Victoria Dock at 8:30am! It had only been 16 hours since my last race, and I’d driven across London from Berkshire to get there. That was a first, by the way – driving through the centre of London from one side to the other. It wasn’t that bad, actually, and I got a great view of all the tourist hotspots (and the tourists, on the way back…)

The Great London Swim takes place in the Royal Victoria Dock near London’s Excel. (Despite being billed as “in the Thames”, it just isn’t, surely. It’s a dock. Not the river. Thoughts?) In the middle of this industrial bit of East London, were 5000 swimmers (five times the amount who took part in 2009, apparently) and an entire athlete village with registration, changing, baggage tents, sponsors, refreshments and photography stages. It was all a bit incongruous, but very slick and impressive.

I’m not too sure where the race announcer thought he was. As the swimmers in my wave (8:30am, the first of the day) made our way through to the holding area (where we’d be briefed and have access to a tiny area of water in which to “warm up”), he joyfully told us that “the water is so warm, there’s no need to wear wetsuits! I expect there’ll be some hardy souls today who choose to go without”.

The race information had stated definitely and repeatedly that wetsuits simply must be worn, regardless of water or air temperature. I started an internal debate about whether or not to wear my suit, when the announcer boomed “oh, er, ha ha, I’ve actually just been told you do have to wear wetsuits, yes, wetsuits are mandatory here today!” Well, it was an early start. I wasn’t feeling too sharp myself.

Our wave was started by open-water champ David Davies and then we were off: a “beach” start, a little dive into the (strangely salty) water, and away down the Thames dock.

It was a beautiful swim and I really enjoyed myself. If race one this week was a hot and sweaty slog for a PB, and race two was a battle for a “podium” place, today was all about the love of open-water. Truly, I’d forgotten how much I love swimming in open-water purely for swimming’s sake. Mostly nowadays, I swim open-water as the first leg of a triathlon, and I’m usually thinking about where I left my bike, how my legs are feeling or how hot it will be for the run.

Today, all I had to do was swum, and I loved it. Despite there being over 200 people in my wave, I was away with the first lot and had no-one swimming over me and no-one slowing up in front of me. The water was really murky, but it didn’t matter because there was nothing to collide with. Just green water, the sun on my back and the majesty of all those old docklands buildings as I turned my head to breathe.

It was over all too soon: 31:02 was my time (I hadn’t quite appreciated that there was a scramble out of the water onto a pontoon, and a short run to a timing mat).

And, as I walked away from the finish area, I heard that announcer come out with another classic. “I can’t believe how many women are finishing around the 30-minute mark!” Bless. Someone should tell him that the extra X chromasome really isn’t that heavy to drag around…

Yes, I drove from Berkshire to Excel at 6am and then back again for a 30-minute swim on behalf of a magazine. What can I say? I love journalism and I love open-water swimming.

Great London Swim (1 mile open-water)
704/3143 finishers
221/1540 female finishers
146/795 in my age group


3 Responses to Race 3 of 3: a swim in London’s Docklands

  1. […] be honest with you though, I wasn’t really feeling the love yesterday morning. I had such a busy week last week and really enjoyed a Saturday doing not much. As the clock ticked on towards that late […]


  2. […] on Sportsister – click through and have a read if you’re interested. I blogged about it here at the time. Despite the early start (which was my choice!), I thoroughly enjoyed the event and […]


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