One event that I had planned for 2020 that didn’t get cancelled was Dock2Dock, the annual swimming race in my favourite swimming spot, Victoria Dock. The race has three options: 1.5k, 5k and 10k, and takes you all the way from the usual course under the Unreasonably High Footbridge, under Connaught Bridge into the next dock, Royal Albert Dock, and all the way back again. This is all the way from Victoria Dock parkrun to Beckton parkrun, or four stops each way on the DLR.

Lovely Victoria Dock. Unreasonably Tall Footbridge in background – that’s about a third of the way to the turnaround.

You won’t be surprised to learn that my swim training didn’t go to plan at all, because nothing at all has gone to plan this year. Contributing factors were:

  • Pools closed until recently
  • No swimming lessons
  • Open water swimming limited to one hour until recently
  • General uncertainty
  • Having to bloody move house in August
  • Me being blazé and not realising quite what a commitment a 5k swim is

I knew I hadn’t done as much training as I should but I figured – incorrectly – that if I wasn’t bothered about time and just wanted to enjoy myself regular swimming, a couple of longer swims and being generally fit from long runs would be plenty. This was a MASSIVE ERROR. A 5k swim is at least as challenging as a half marathon – closer to a marathon for me, I think – and being able to run a half marathon comfortably doesn’t mean you can swim the equivalent. You run with your legs. You swim with your arms. My arms were nowhere near ready for this.

Seriously fuck this bridge

On the way out my main concern was my fucking tow float which seemed intent to float up to my head and get tangled in my stroke and garrot me. I don’t understand why this only happens to me. Everyone else’s bobs along happily behind them. My second concern was that however far I swam the turnaround point seemed absolutely nowhere to be seen. My third was that a combination of failing eyesight and fuzzy goggles meant that I couldn’t really see a lot and was feeling really disoriented. Rob had very kindly (foolishly) decided to stick with me throughout my ordeal, but I couldn’t really see where he was and couldn’t tell him apart from other swimmers or marker buoys, which were unhelpfully the same colour as the 5k swim hats. I became convinced I had passed the turn around point and was actually swimming down the estuary, passing Southend Pier and onwards to France. I would wash up on the shore days later and wonder why everyone was speaking French. It felt like I had been swimming for hours. Surely it couldn’t be any further? It was a great relief every time a kayak appeared with a floating marshal in it, but each time my relief turned to annoyance when they refused to tell me that I was nearly there and instead pointed to a tiny orange speck in the distance where I would finally be allowed to turn around.

After sixty million years I finally reached the orange speck and turned around. I could just about make out Connaught Bridge through the fuzz and finally my tow float was blowing away from me and not trying to drown me and this gave me a shortlived burst of energy. After fifteen minutes or so of swimming I looked up to see if I had passed the bridge yet.

Too far

It hadn’t moved. It seemed just as far away as it had been when I turned. This was the point when things started to get really hard. My arms were agony. If you’ve ever done a marathon and can recall the pain in your legs around the infamous 20 mile mark, I had the exact same pain in both arms and every stroke was agony. My form, which is no good at the best of times, went to absolute pot. I couldn’t coordinate my head with my arms or my hips or my feet and the only bit I could get right was the breathing which is not much use if you are not actually going anywhere. If this had been a running race it would have been the point when I stopped for a walk, but there isn’t an equivalent in swimming. You can stop and float for a little bit, but unlike walking this doesn’t help with forward progress in the slightest. I suppose if I hadn’t been wearing a wetsuit I could have done a bit of breaststroke (but I would also have died of hypothermia already). There were only two options: keep on going or get towed back by a dinghy person. The latter was highly tempting, but I would not have been able to live with the shame of relating the tale in this blog entry, so I spluttered onwards. Rob stuck with me throughout, even though he could probably have beaten me by an hour, doing breaststroke. I was vaguely aware of him chatting to the dinghy people about aquathlons, the Isle of Wight and god knows what else. I didn’t know how he could be so conversational in the middle of an ordeal and the only conversation I wanted to have was “where’s the finish” and “am I going to get out of this alive”. I repayed Rob’s kindness by swearing at him a lot and telling him I was never going swimming again and that it was all his fault for having this stupid idea although actually it was my idea and me who persuaded him to sign up. I am a terrible friend, I don’t know why he puts up with me.

Dinghy man had the duty of informing me that I had missed the cut off but could avoid being unceremoniously fished out of the water and presented with a swimming cap with “FAILURE” on it by swimming back to the pontoon as the actual finish line was now being taken over by waterskiiers. I had no desire to be either fished or entangled in skis so grasped this option. Finally, after fifty-nine thousand years in Victoria Dock, I saw the pontoon. And there on it were all the staff from the dock and Sabrina with her camera and Kate with a pint of beer at the ready for me in the Oiler Bar. I was so grateful they had waited for me and didn’t even seem annoyed that I’d made them stay out there for so long. Do I have to tell you my finish time? It wasn’t seven hours and seven minutes, and that’s all I really have to say. If you really want to know you could probably find it on the website. I was dead last. By some way. The person before me was at home watching TV by the time I got out. It was that bad.

If I enter next year, I do solemnly swear that I will take my training as seriously as I would an equivalent running race. I will practice my stroke and I will never again skip the biceps and triceps tracks on Body Pump. Or I might just enter the 1.5k.

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