Saturday 26 June 2010

British Gas Great East Swim, Alton Water, Ipswich, Suffolk, Saturday June 19, 2010

Above: Finish certificate for The Great East Swim. A disappointing time, but probably the best possible considering the conditions and an eventful 1,500 Metre race.

On the way to Alton Water, Beccy drove while I studied a map of the course (see above). Using NLP Visualisation and Mental Rehearsal techniques, I shut my eyes and pictured the course over and over again, so that when I actually swum the race, it would be just a re-run of the race having swum it many times before in the car. I learnt all the buoys along with their respective distances, and was mentally prepared when we got there.

As we arrived, the heavens opened, the wind was hurtling across the water and into the car park where we were parked, and it was a really miserable day. The BBC weather forecast said to expect winds of 21MPH in Suffolk. They were not far wrong. We sat it out for about 5-6 minutes in the car, then it just stopped. The sun came out, and it was scorching hot. All in the space of about 60 seconds! This was to be the pattern of the weather for the day.

As we reached the swim area, a "Wave" (as the groups of swimmers are known) was already in the water, and we searched around to suss things out, and prepare for my race which was the "Light Purple Wave" at 11.30am. I put my trunks on in the changing tent, and noticed that virtually everyone was wearing a wetsuit. It was not mandatory as the water temperature was about 16+ Degrees C. It was only mandatory if under 15C. After last week's experiences at Felixstowe, I didn't ever want to wear a wetsuit again, although they are mandatory for The Great London Swim on July 3rd.

Above: Jana Pechanova (Czech Republic - 8th in Women's 10KM Marathon Swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics) with Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria - Olympian and 9 times FINA World Cup Open Water Swimming Grand Prix Champion and English Channel World Record Holder) start one of the waves.

As I watched Jana and Petar start a wave, Petar spotted me and waved from the podium. I hadn't seen him since Mexico in 2008, and he came over to chat. He was complaining that he felt really cold. It was certainly now very cold and windy, and the water didn't look inviting at all.

At 11.00am, our wave's gates were open to register. As I wasn't wearing a wetsuit, I remained clothed for as long as possible prior to the race so I didn't get cold. We had to enter the gate, wipe our timing chip across something to register that we were here, then entered the starting area. As I did, the heavens open again. The clothes I was wearing were the only ones I had with me, and they were getting soaked!

I started to drink my Herbalife H30 Pro Isotonic Drink, which I had put warm water in before I left home, and started to think about the course again, ensuring I had it locked into my mind. That done, and now starting to get really soaked, I stripped off and stood in the rain in my trunks.

Following the previous weeks tough swim at Felixstowe, and training during the week, I had slightly strained both deltoid muscles, and so Beccy had put Kinesio Tape on both shoulders 24 hours before. It seemed to create quite a stir with people asking constant questions about it, coupled with the fact that I was the only one with no wetsuit on. I just tried to focus on the race ahead.

At 11:29:30, we all pushed towards the front and waited for the countdown at 11:29:50. 10...9...8.....2...1... HONK!!! There was a massive sprint into the water, and everyone seemed to be on top of everyone else.

I seemed to have people on top of me, underneath me, beside me, everywhere! As I tried to swim, I couldn't actually grab any water. I just seemed to be grabbing bodies. It was unbelievable. But, that's open water racing! I was out of practice.

I headed for the first buoy, and as I passed it, I remembered the course, 200 Metres completed, now towards the second buoy at 400 Metres. Bodies continued to be in the way, the wind and waves were coming directly towards us, and I was purely breathing to the right to avoid swallowing water on the left. This was tough!

I headed past the 400 Metre buoy, looked up to see the 600 Metres buoy and sprinted at about 90% effort. I suddenly got into a rhythm, started to bi-lateral breathe and got into the zone. All of a sudden, at about 500 Metres, I decided to overtake a swimmer on the inside when I smashed into an immovable object. Head, face and right arm was stopped dead and it scared the shit out of me. I looked up, and there was some idiot in a kayak who said "Move to the left please. Keep to the left" quite calmly, and as if he hadn't got a care in the world. I couldn't believe it! What a total idiot! Didn't he realise this was a race? Once I had got my senses back, I pushed him out of the way, and had to start again from a standstill. It must have cost me a good 30 seconds, and I was absolutely furious! I was panting so hard I couldn't say anything which is probably just as well as he would have got a gob full I can tell you!

I turned at 600 metres and headed along the back straight where it was much easier to swim. The waves were now no longer into my face, and I again got into a good rhythm, and back into the zone.

As I turned the last buoy and headed for home, I was flat out. I went underneath the elite race finish line and slapped the board, but our race didn't finish there. We had to exit the water and run up onto the bank where our timing chips register the fact you have finished, along with your time. I crossed the finish line, and that was it. Job done.

As I finished, the race commentator came over to me interested in my Kinesio Tape on my shoulders. The conversation went something like this:-

Commentator (C): "So here's a finisher with no wetsuit and some tape on his arms. I've seen this quite a few times now, could you tell me what it is please".

Me (PH): "Huh ... Huh ... Huh ... Huh ..... It's ... cal .... called .... Huh .... Huh ... Huh ... I ... can't ... get my ....... breath back .... Huh .... Huh .... Huh .... .Kinesio Tape".

C: "Kinesio Tape, I've heard of that before. What does it do?".

I took a couple of deep breaths so that I could speak, until I felt as though I'd got my breath back.

PH: "Well it helps with sports injuries, by lifting the top layer of skin (epidermis) away from the bottom (dermis) allowing an injury to heal quicker by getting the blood flow to the injury. I have slightly injured my shoulders which is why I'm wearing it." I thought I would plug my business, so I added laughing... "'s available at Body and Mind Studio in Bury St Edmunds!"

C: "Interesting. I note you are not wearing a wetsuit, why is that?"

Now there was an interesting question! I thought that I would plug true Open Water Swimming as I knew it and replied:-

PH: "I'm a two time English Channel Swimmer, and we are not allowed to wear wetsuits to swim the channel. Wetsuits are for wimps". I looked around and suddenly realised how outnumbered I was so laughed nervously and started to walk away, but he continued...

C: "We have some of the world's top open water swimmers here, and they are wearing wetsuits. Do you think they are wimps then?".

Now I was in trouble! I didn't know they would be wearing wetsuits, and even as I write this blog, I am not sure why they were wearing them as they don't usually. They didn't in Serbia or Mexico, so no idea really. I thought on my toes quickly.

PH: "I don't know, you will have to ask them." I replied as I walked away surrounded by wet suited swimmers!

I walked off towards the official photographer, collected my goody bag with medal in and went off to find Beccy and Luca.

When I found her we chatted about the race, then told me some sad news. She said that as my wave had started, she had seen a lady in a wetsuit being brought to shore in a boat and CPR was being administered. She said she looked grey, had floppy arms and looked dead. She said they took her away in an ambulance (see footnote below for more information). I listened to her and it makes you realise that we are in a dangerous sport. Everyone should know the risks before they contemplate any Open Water Swimming. No one knew anything else about it, and so all we could do was continue with the day until we heard anything else about it.

I missed the start of the Elite Women's Race, as I went to get changed, but got back in time to watch the end of it, and to watch the Elite Men's Race competitors get ready for their race.

Above: Petar Stochev (in wetsuit - bizarre, why did they have to wear wetsuits?) warming up for the Elite Men's race.

Above: Centre, Great Britain's James Goddard competing in his first open water race, following an interview by the race commentator.

Above: The finish of the Elite Women's race. Full results can be obtained by clicking here.

Above: Great Britain's Olympic Bronze Medalist and World Championship Silver Medalist Cassie Pattern who finished 3rd in this race.

Above: With Beccy and Luca after my swim and just prior to the start of the Elite Men's race.

Above: Petar Stoychev (red hat) and Brendan Cappell (blue hat) of Australia who will be attempting to break Stoychev's English Channel World Record this summer.

We watched the Elite men's race set off and they went at a blistering pace. At the head of the pack were some of the world's top elite open water swimmers. There was a large outdoor television screen on which you could watch the race. Luca was fascinated by my medal, which each finisher received.

I headed over towards the finish line ad watched as the race finished with Brendan Capell in 3rd place and Petar Stoychev back in 5th, both positions surprising me. Stoychev took a long time getting out of the water, and did not look happy.

I went over to chat to Brendan Capell about his forthcoming English Channel World Record attempt. We spoke about CSA/CS&PF etc., when over came Stoychev to confront Capell. Now retired German Open Water Swimmer Steffie Biller also came over, and a slightly heated conversaton occurred between Stoychev and Capell.

Above: Stoychev (left) accuses Capel (right) of wrecking his race, but Capell was having none of it saying that it was called "racing"!

I walked off with Stephie as they argued. I didn't want to get involved in that one! As it started to get colder again, we decided to head home having had a great day at Alton Water, even though I was dissapointed with my time and hitting the kayak. Next up is The Great London Swim on July 3rd.

FOOTNOTE: During the week, we discovered very sadly that the lady Beccy saw being pulled from the water was in fact 35 year old Tracey Rammell from Leicester who very sadly died in hospital after the race. The story can be found by clicking here. Our deepest sympathies go to her family and friends.


Anonymous said...

You stated, "Everyone should know the risks before they contemplate any Open Water Swimming." Tracey Rammell did. She was a competant swimmer who unfortunately died of natural causes which had nothing to do with the swim. She did die however, doing something that she loved. Thank you for your condolences. Tracey's sister is competing in her place at the Great Swim on Sept 4. We give her all our love and support for the swim.

Hoffy Swims said...

Thank you for your comment and once again our sincere condolences to Tracey's familiy and friends on behalf of myself as Chairman of the International Open Water Swimming Association (IOWSA) and my wife Beccy (Hon. Secretary of IOWSA) who saw the tragic event unfold.

If we can be of assistance to help organise a plaque at Alton Water, or something similar if you feel it is appropriate, then please do not hesitate to contact me at

Our best wishes go to Tracey's sister on Sept. 4th.