River Arun Swim 2014

Well this is something new for me – a swim race!  No sign of a bike or running shoes, so all new territory for me.

The River Arun Swim is an Ironman distance swim, 3.8km, in a salt water tidal river, and a significantly longer swim than I’d ever done before.  The race is point to point, so you start upstream at Ford, and swim downstream for 3.8km to Littlehampton, and the finish is at the top of the lifeboat ramp in Littlehampton harbour.

River Arun Swim

River Arun Swim

Swim training has been going pretty well though.  At first I was very daunted, and struggled to see how I could go from struggling to do an 800m lap of our training lake, to do almost 5 times that!  Thankfully, one of the Freedom Tri coaches Greg posted up a “Zero to hero” training plan, which really did help.  It was a gradual build over 7 weeks to get up to the distance.  A training plan really helped me to break it down, and focus on the task at hand.  I didn’t quite manage to make all the sessions, as life and a couple of other races meant that I had to juggle a couple of swims here and there, but I did get up to swimming 2.75km in training.  I had in mind that it was like marathon training – you don’t do the full distance in training, although I do wish I had done a bit more to give me a bit more confidence.

The weeks training a week before the big silly swim involved an off road triathlon – a 750m open water swim/10km mountain bike/5km trail run (I didn’t bother with a race report, as I had in mind it was a training race, bloody good fun though!).  Unfortunately I feel off during the bike course, and hit my shoulder quite hard, so I was a bit worried that might affect my swimming.  Racing on the Thursday before the longest swim of my life probably wasn’t the brightest of moves, but I did enjoy it.

I have suffered cramp quite a bit in the water during training, and I stumbled across an article pointing the finger at caffeine as a potential trigger for cramp, so I stopped drinking coffee a week or so before the race.   It seemed to be paying off, as I hadn’t suffered cramp since stopping.  I only used to drink about 3 cups of coffee a day, but did have it very strong – 3 heaped teaspoons of coffee per cup, so I suppose that was quite a bit of caffeine in my system.  Thankfully I haven’t had the caffeine withdrawal headache that a lot of people seem to suffer when giving up coffee.

I’d arranged for a lift down to Littlehampton with my tri-buddy James in his happy bus, and had offered to collect club mates Jenny and Rachel, and leave my car at James’s.  I was up early, and left home at 6:30 am, arriving at Hitchin at 7am after a couple of pick-ups.  We got loaded up and got a shift on.   The journey was good, apart from my dodgy navigation, and we arrived in Littlehampton and parked up before 10am.

First things first: breakfast!  Although I had had a bowl of Ready Brek before leaving, there was plenty of time to consume and digest a cooked breakfast.  The race start time was 1pm, but was dependent on the tide, to we had plenty of time.  The bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes and toast went down very well.

After breakfast, we went over to the lifeboat station to register and pick up our race packs, which included colour coded swim caps.  I was given a green cap, along with all the men under 40.  All the women were in blue, and the men over 40 were in a dashing raspberry pink.  The race was split into 2 waves – the under 40 men and women first, and then the over 40 men would be set off a few minutes later.  This did worry me, I could put myself at the back of my wave, but it wouldn’t be long before the big boys would catch me up and swim over me.  Oh well, not a lot I could really do about that!  There were over 400 entrants, with approximately 250 in the first wave, and 150 in the second, so it was going to be busy at the start.

We went for a walk about, and had a look at the river.  We spotted this sign – this really put my mind at rest:



And here’s a photo at low tide of the finishing ramp.  At high tide. the water is about 6.5 metres higher.

Low tide

Low tide

At noon, we were all transported via coach up to the start area.   The race organisers had laid on coaches to the start.  We got wetsuited up.  This is where the official photographers come in!  We posed for a group photo of all the Freedom Tri swimmers taking part in the race – 24 of us in total.

Raw Energy Pursuits, REP Arun Swim, June 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com

Group shot

We had to hang about quite a while at the start, while everyone got bussed in, and waiting for the tide to turn.  The idea of the race is to get in the water while the water is slack, which apparently means when the tide is turning.  Then start swimming as the tide turns, then be swept out to sea assisted to the finish of the race in the Littlehampton harbour by the tide.  There was also a race briefing, with instructions to stay on the right hand side of the river at the start, through the middle of the two bridges, avoiding the water turbine (!), then move across to the left of the river to exit up the lifeboat ramp.  The first bridge is about 1km from the end, and the second about 500m from the end.  Sounded easy enough.  We were told during the briefing that the river water temperature was 19c and the deep sea temperature was 17c, so well within my comfortable range of water – considerably warmer than when we started the open water swimming swimming at the start of May, but not quite as warm as we’ve seen in the still lakes that I’d been training in.

We were also told to get in the water quickly, as there were a lot of people to get in, and single file would take a long old while if people were sodding about.

By about 1:30, I think a lot of people were getting a bit restless waiting for the water to turn, so we were sent off to get in the water.  We made our way down to the river bank.  We had to walk down a single file track that had been cut into the grass, pretty much the width of a lawnmower, and had to get in quickly.  I would have preferred to have taken a minute or two to sort out my goggles, and make sure I was sorted out, but it is what it is – get in, and get on.

Here’s another snap from the official photographer, grinning like an idiot, and doing my best to look relaxed and composed before queuing to get in the water.

Raw Energy Pursuits, REP Arun Swim, June 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com

Pretending to look relaxed.

When we got in, the water didn’t feel very slack – the tide still felt like it was coming in, so we had to swim forward against the tide to stay still before the gun went to start the race.   I got my face in the water as we swam towards the start line, and was hit by the saltiness of the water.  I knew it was salt water, but had no idea how I’d get on with this.  I was very conscious not to swallow any of the water, as it can cause an upset stomach – the last thing you want while swimming!

I stayed right at the back of the pack, in the middle of the river, away from the bustle at the front.  I’ve now done quite a bit of open water swimming compared to last year, but I’m not very confident in a big group of swimmers, and worried about being kicked or smacked by faster, stronger swimmers.

I remembered being told to try to keep to the right hand side of the river, but seemed to be stuck in the middle.  The river is 30 – 40 metres wide, so getting from one side to the other is easier said than done!  Going against the race instructions did mean that it was less congested, so I was swimming in clearer water, but the middle of the water flows faster, so I was probably disadvantaged while the tide was still coming in.

I did get knocked and swam over a bit, and one particular bloke was getting right on my wick  – he was slightly in front of me, and was zigzagging all over the place.  I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but he was all over me.  I eventually managed to give him a wide berth and get away from him though thankfully.

It wasn’t that long into the swim that the raspberry wave caught up and started overtaking me.  I didn’t seem to be moving very quickly, and pretty much the whole wave ultimately shot past me.  I did manage to get into a good and relaxed rhythm.  I was deliberately not trying to swim too quickly – it’s a marathon not a sprint after all.  I had a target time of 1:30 in mind, but was going to be happy just to complete the distance really.  It’s really hard to judge time or distance in the water, with no real land marks to go on, apart from a grassy riverbank.

After what felt like a very long time, and not having reached the first bridge, I had a breast stroke breather for a few strokes, and took a glimpse of my watch.  I was not quite half way in, 1.8km, and had been swimming for just under an hour.  So at that sort of rate I was looking at 2 hours for the distance.  Well over my target of 1:30.  For the first half, it did feel like we were swimming against the tide, and this is reflected in the results.  Most of the people I spoke to after the race were 10 – 15 minutes slower this year than previous years, so the general consensus was that they put us in the water and set us off too early.  It certainly felt that way!  I don’t know if this was because the swimmers at the start were getting restless, or if the river was only able to be closed for a certain length of time.

I got my face back in the water after a few easy breast strokes and breaths, and got my rhythm going again.  I was still middle to left of the river, not quite where I should have been!

One of the support boats seemed to be stalking me at this stage, I hope they weren’t eyeing me up to pull me out of the water.  It did feel like the boat was close to me for a while – I kept feeling its wake, and it really smelt fumy, so I was pleased when they finally left me to it.  Perhaps it was making sure I wasn’t drifting too far left, but there were plenty of canoeists on the river too, keeping an eye out, and looking after everyone.

After what seemed like another absolute AGE, I finally caught sight of the first bridge, so I knew I was roughly a kilometer from the finish.  I started to get a slight twinge of cramp at this stage, but thankfully it stayed a twinge, and didn’t amount to much.  I really didn’t want to cramp up in this swim!

I passed the bridge in the middle as per the race brief, and before I knew it I was at the second bridge, so only a few hundred metres to go!

I started moving over to the left hand side of the river, and started my “sprint finish”, which I use in the loosest sense of the words!  I had been genuinely worried about getting swept out to sea, as I had heard that it was a super fast river, however I managed to get across to the exit ramp without any problems.

There were a couple of marshals helping people out of the river.  I lost my footing on some slippery weed on the ramp, as you can see the green stuff on the photo above.  I wish they had jet washed it at low tide, as I felt a right fool falling over in front of hundreds of people that had finished ahead of me!  Here’s me, being all smooth!

Raw Energy Pursuits, REP Arun Swim, June 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com

Smooth exit!

I think you can tell from this photo how hard I found it – I don’t think I’ve ever looked quite so wrecked!

Raw Energy Pursuits, REP Arun Swim, June 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com


I soon found my feet, and gave coach Greg the thumbs up, as I stumbled up the ramp, and through the finish line.

Raw Energy Pursuits, REP Arun Swim, June 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.com

Stumble trip!

Thankfully at the top of the ramp, I was greeted by one of my club mates, Laura, and was handed a Snickers bar and a bottle of Coke.  That was the best!  I couldn’t get the taste of salt water out of my mouth quick enough, so pretty much inhaled them.

My final finishing position was 342nd out of 351, in a time of 1:31:42.  I’m very happy with that, I was hoping for about 1:30, so coming fairly close is good, and I’ve left plenty of room for improvement for next year.  I couldn’t give a monkey’s that I was so far down towards the bottom of the race – I’m really pleased that I managed to build up to this distance after only 13 months of open water swimming.

And here I am a while longer, enjoying what I came for – the ice cream, with my lovely club mate Jackie.

Will swim for ice cream!

Will swim for ice cream!

The whole day out was fantastic, and it had a real school trip feel to it – lots of fun, and lots of banter.  Definitely one for next year.

Full results can be found here:  http://www.rawenergypursuits.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Provisional-Results-20141.pdf


And here are the stats from my watch:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/520580657

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