Swim Serpentine – 22.9.18

  • Race Report by Jenna Pogue

It wasn’t running but it did involve lots of MFRC members so I’ve written a report of Swim Serpentine for anyone who enjoys swimming, wants something to read over coffee or wants to hear how we lost Sylvia Guthrie at Marble Arch Underground!

9 Mermaids and 2 Mermen joined 6000 others at Hyde Park to swim one of the various distances around the Serpentine Lake. When we arrived at 09:30 the half milers, para-swimmers and the women-only 1 milers had set off and/or were already out of the water. The race village and grandstand were set up along the bank of the lake so after a quick recce we took the chance to watch the next swim wave set off. Watching swimmers take to the water I found myself welling up – the music, cheers and buzz combined with my own fears about the water, being new to swimming and this being my first event, all made me quite emotional.

At 11:45 my wave took to the pontoon. I’d just seen the rest of the gang watching from the side so I tried to look extra cool and calm, waving at them as I walked down the ramp into the water. I must have missed the briefing about how short the ramp was though as suddenly there was nothing under foot and lots of water above! Cathy McKeown told me later that I looked confident setting off so despite the splash I made, it must have looked OK! The water temp was 17 which was perfect for me – chilly at first but you can acclimatise quickly. You have to let some water into your wetsuit and it’s this ‘thermal layer’ of water that keeps you warm as your own body heats it up. That chill when you first let it in though…

The first lap went quickly and I was impressed by The London Mastaba, a floating sculpture of 7506 barrels stacked 20 metres high that made a great reference point for navigating the course. I began lap 2 naively thinking I just had to do the same again – I should’ve known better. My arms got so tired I wasn’t sure they were still moving and I had twinges of cramp in my calves, plus numb hands, backache and fatigue. I’d finished training at 1.2 miles so this was new territory for me and while I had some positive moments where I felt I would finish, other times it seemed impossible. When the finish line finally came into sight I had momentary relief until I realised the front swimmers from the next wave were approaching rapidly. Suddenly I was surrounded by thrashing bodies all scrambling to the finish line. One of my biggest fears was getting kicked in the face but I had no choice than to get stuck in and sprint to the finish with them. Once there, a marshal helped me out of the water and held me up while my legs adjusted to being back on land. Around the corner, our one-man support crew Sam Lowe was waiting with Stuart to welcome me back and with a quick flash of my wristbands I had 2 medals around my neck – one for the swim plus a London Classics medal for completing all 3 events – London Marathon, Ride London and the 2 mile Swim Serpentine.

Later, Cathy Keay and Natalie Deven breezed into the changing rooms full of smiles so I knew their swims had gone well. Alison Lowe and Lisa Kenny strolled out the water after 2 miles looking relaxed – they’re both confident swimmers that I aspire to. Sylvia had no trouble completing the 1 mile nor did Cathy McKeown who, like me, overcame some open water nerves. Jane Hitchman was our fearless ‘skins’ swimmer who did it sans-wetsuit and Maggie Morgan exited the water smiling, asking where they kept the gin! Stuart was our fastest 2 miler – in and out the water in 1 hour 6 minutes, claiming a Classics medal to boot and when Ian O’Donnell set off in the last wave at 15:45 we all knew he’d also be picking up his Classics medal before the end of the day.

After lots of post-race banter and photos we left Hyde Park, singing and dancing, with high spirits until someone shouted ‘where’s Sylvia?’ Horror! We’d forgotten to enlist a tail person and our gang of Mer-people had become separated. After much worrying but with nothing we could do, we carried on, hoping we’d find each other down the line. Arriving at Euston, still fretting about losing a Mermaid, Sylvia hopped off the opposite platform and a lot of locals were suddenly very confused as a big pile of rucksacks and bobble hats engulfed her in hugs and cheers. Reunited, we needed somewhere to dry off, warm up and refresh. Luckily, Cathy Keay knew the exact way to the nearest pub!