First Aider: He’s very slow. Are you sure he’s all right?
Glenys: This is how he always swims. He’ll be fine.
Welcome to the world of the athlete in his late seventies, who won’t or can’t give up. The scene is near the yellow buoy marking the three kilometre point of this four kilometre swim. I tell the two on the bank that I am feeling tired but am sure I will finish. And I do. It is a strange section of river with meanders and marshes and mirages. The sedges are silver in the breeze, the sky is brightly bouncing off the water, distorting distance, building up and then dashing hopes of the finish point. I can no longer see the sploshing arms of the last wave of decent swimmers ahead. I cut the corners of the meanders but the shallows there bash my knees with flinty spite. Leaden arms and legs, not synchronised, ambition narrowing to a coffee and a cake. I am hauled out and cocooned in a silver sheet. Glenys makes it about 100 minutes, with just half a dozen or so behind me.
I find it hard being among the back markers, having been in the top 10% to 20% in my distance running career, but I understand why and I enter a few events with reduced ambitions and still enjoy it. This is why. 30 years ago my 4K swimming time, adjusted for current, would have been more like 70 minutes, much more respectable. So all you boys and girls in your 30s, 40s, 50s have to do is add about 10% per decade to your current times, project that forward to my present age of 76, and that is the reality of reaching a ripe age and still competing. If you feel depressed by this forecast of deterioration, you don’t need to be. Life is still good and still feeling part of something brings back a host of happy memories.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many members of OSS and other groups for their kind support over the last six years. This has been incredibly helpful at those times when I have felt like giving up.
This event is a little classic. Tricky entry and exit points have been organised with imagination and care. The river has no clear landmarks so 4 yellow buoys are provided to help chart progress. There is a gentle flow, a good depth of water, except on the inside curve of the spectacular series of meanders near the end.
I can’t recommend it too highly.
Thinking of entering? One or two points you may like to think about:
Cost this year was £50, plus £3.50 for bus trip back to Carpark and the same for Glenys, who walked alongside me through brambles, nettles and across a broken bridge, not bad for two days after her 75th birthday!
The return bus ticket and race number are on bracelets around the wrist.
Neither start nor finish is close to where you can park. Siemens carpark half a mile from the start has no toilet or catering. Coffee at a garage on the A40 a mile away. Portaloo toilets next to Eynsham lock, but again no catering.
Bags with warmups, etc. Are labelled with your race number and put in a van. Then there is a lock gate and a footbridge to cross and some waiting before the start. Even wetsuited people can feel cold and skins swimmers like me certainly can. Not everybody is lucky enough to have a carer, Glenys, to carry river shoes and raincoat 4 kilometres to the finish, where there is a 300 metre walk before people can be reunited with their bags. Vehicles can’t access either start or finish, so there could be a little discomfort if there is a chilly wind.
Skins swimmers must wear a towfloat. Event insurers seem to insist on it, they who know about open water swimming as I know the dark side of the moon. Why? Not visibility since wetsuit wearers don’t need them. Safety? Not according to skilled skins swimmers like Channel swimmers and BLDSA members. It seems to me that its only use must be as a luminous chastity belt, to stop me committing misdemeanours during the swim.
This doesn’t work for these four reasons:
I can’t swim fast enough to catch a pretty lady.
Even if I could she would not like me.
Even if she did I would not be able to remove her wetsuit in time.
Even if I could, my gentleman’s equipment would be switched to cold water mode.
It seems a case of “Something should be done. This is something. Let’s do this”.
Safety patrols were mostly adequate, canoes, motorboats, stand up paddle boards and first aiders along the bank. There was just one short period when I was totally alone, no swimmers, no boats. Bliss.
The damaged bridge was perfectly safe. Glenys used it and kept with me every step of the way. What a girl friend and supporter.
The coffee and cakes in bewildering variety were very welcome at the finish.
Our caravan was sited at Bladon Chains, Woodstock, Caravan and Motorhome Club site. 10 minutes from Eynsham.
I would definitely consider doing this event again in a year’s time if I am still here and feel I am up to it.
Alan White, June, 2018.
Many thanks to Alan for this guest blog. I know there are many of us who are totally inspired by his swimming stories. A big thanks to Glenys, described above as ‘girlfriend and supporter’ for the lovely photos that accompany this post.
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