• Nikki Bartlett

Henley to Marlow bridge to bridge 14k swim...as you do...

11/08/2013: So, earlier in the year, Helen, Cath and myself thought we would carry on our tradition every year of doing something slightly different. Cath suggested the Henley to Marlow 14k swim event, and at the time I thought, errr well I find 3-4k a struggle in the pool. So naturally I thought, why not. Helen agreed and we signed up. No backing out now, the money had left the poor bank account, extra motivation... This time last year I would have NEVER dreamt of doing such a distance. It was about this time last year that I did a swim 'session' in the pool with Bex, setting me 6x100m in a 1.5k-2k session. They were 'sprints' but at such a new sport to myself, these 100m were done at around 1.50's and this actually felt seriously hard! One year on, and I'm entering a 14k. This year swimming had to be my main focus, after moving to Birmingham at the end of 2012 and being honoured to be an Alumni Sports Scholar at the University of Birmingham, I had access to some great facilities. From this point, is where I started swimming 4-6 times a week, and the progression has been great to see. At Mallorca 70.3 I posted a 28.30 for the 1.9k swim and couldn't have thought this was possible at the beginning of the year. I have put so much hard work and commitment, drive and focus into swimming. Ask anyone from University rowing days, I was fearful of open water, hence taking 4 years to get into a single scull to progress onto the World Class start rowing system. This year, my aim was the really break this 'fear' and push myself into situations in training sessions but also challenges such as this event, to break the 'fear'. As of yesterday, I can say that I am starting to enjoy swimming and strive upon the challenge of learning such a technical sport, where efficiency is key. Prior to this event, Cath and myself did a 10k swim, 10x1k loops in choppy water and it was hell, one of the most painful, mind numbing and punishing on the brain and body events. From here I started to really worry about the 14k swim. I must admit I didn't train specifically for the 14k as this firstly isn't a race format, but also, my focus is still on the 70.3; 1.9k distance. My strength, sprint, threshold and general sets in training were still solely focussed on the 1.9k. The day came around quickly and it was a lovely morning, full of around 400 other crazy people taking on the challenge. The event is highly 'stressed' that it isn't a race. The format is that you do the course in 'pods', created after the first 4k, where the first lock was. At each lock there was food and water to take on, and timed, around 7-11minutes at each lock to regroup, have food, and make your way. For us, as endurance bunnies, our aim was to go off steadily and see how we go. If you get tired you can drop back a pod. Unfortunately you cant progress to a pod. We set out together swimming in a line and it was great. Such a special moment to be able to share such a challenge with like minded great friends. On top of this my parents and grandma and granddad came to support. Means a lot to me to have their support in triathlon and other crazy events I decide to enter. There were 4 locks in total, the first lock was 4k, my usual training distance haha. Stopping for around 7-11minutes at each lock. Towards the end you had to stop a bit in the middle of swimming a few times to regain as a pod. So all in all about 40-50mins you weren't swimming, however this isn't taken off of your time. In total, our time was 3hours 51mins, but minus the stops, your looking around the 3hour mark (it is downstream too). My mentality before the event, was to do this as a challenge. However I keep needing to tell myself that I am maybe a tad too competitive to be doing events which aren't set out as a race. I kept thinking, lets just stop for 1minute at each lock as its time being added to our overall time. But this is where I kept having to tell myself to shut up Nikki, this is a challenge, do it steadily so you complete it without an injury and having to recover from it. After much self talk, I managed to get around quite easily and kept asking myself, when am I going to hit a wall, or get tired. Somehow this didn't happen, and if someone said to me at the end of it, that it was a 20k swim, I could have gone on.. This is such a great event and would recommend it to all. The scenery is simply stunning, I absolutely love this part of the world, and cannot wait to race Henley Challenge here in September. If you want to do this event and push for a time, I highly recommend that you do the first 4k to the first lock comfortably hard to get into the first or second pod. We were in the 4th pod (out of 12) and after 7k we would have liked to move up pods as we could have progressively got faster. But even reflecting on it, its not about that, its not about times in this event. Its the challenge, experiencing such a great moment with other like minded people, enjoying it and being able to appreciate doing such a challenge. The organisation was great and you can see why they have a successful range of events throughout the year. Thanks firstly to Cath and Helen for sharing yet another crazy challenge together. To my amazing family for their support, so lucky to have them there at events. To the organisers. To the fantastic Aqua Sphere for such a great wetsuit and goggles for the event. The wetsuit was so comfortable throughout and didn't get any aches or tightness. Couldn't recommend a nicer wetsuit; comfort, speed and seriously one of the most competitive prices on the market. Do check them out here. Or for competitive prices, see A1 Multisport here.

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