The Dart 10km and 5 tips to help you swim a similar event
There wasn’t a soul in the high street as I strolled through Totnes under the soft pink hues of the morning sky early on Sunday. It was quite enchanting. Just as I got to the bridge, which crosses the River Dart, I suddenly became wide-awake. I cooed as my eyes sprung open when I spotted the glorious full silver moon just above a lush green Devon hill. Whirls of mist rose from the water making the shimmery moon appear even more magical. I love the moon and I love swimming as the moon watches on from above. Any nerves about the imminent swimming marathon soon subsided now that I knew the moon would be joining us.
“Ooo, crikey, it’s quite warm isn’t it?” I said to Kari, a Dart 10km veteran and Outdoor Swimming Society muse, as we lined up for our ‘Medium’ paced wave and took our first step into the river. The water (16 degrees) was warmer than the air temperature and pleasantly thawed my naked feet, which had got a bit nippy since I put my shoes in the bag drop zone. I then flushed a touch of rouge as I spotted a woman in skins in front of me as I was stood in my Alpkit wetsuit. . “No, we’ve got brains.” A man beside me said chuckling.
“3-2-1” we all counted down, and then we were off, in a leisurely moseying start, I was still nattering to Karri as we walked into the Dart. ‘Alright, see you in a bit,’ we said before diving in. Swimmers looked like angels as the morning sun glowed through the splash of their strokes. We all had wings. Well, the flow made me feel like I had wings. Last year, I swam the length of the River Thames, wearing a mermaid tail. In the 22 days it took me to swim 120 miles I only really experienced decent flow a few times after heavy rainfall. I felt the flow straight away in the Dart, thanks to it being tidal from Totnes.
Before I knew it I’d made the first feed station, which was a floating pontoon in the middle of the river. You had to grab on tight to the pontoon, if you wanted a well needed jelly baby as the flow was so strong it was pulling me away. I lay on my back like a floating otter whilst I finished my feed and let the river drift me along and took in the sights.
“Just 3km to go. Not long now.” A volunteer shouted as he stretched his arm out to pass me another jelly baby at the final feed station. After the last bend of the river I lifted my head to spot and saw the giant ‘10km’ sign floating at the end and my face grinned. After a couple of hours swimming, it’s quite a glorious sight. The sun shone down on the little harbour town of Dittisham and it’s rays felt like it was pulling me along. We weaved through colourful fishing boats and as the water became more shallow I spotted schools of fish, before I heard the crowds cheering and clapping us in.
“Well done.” A smiling volunteer said as they directed me down the beach where I was rewarded with my very own Dart 10km mug to take home, filled with hot chocolate. And of course, all good long distance swimming events finish with a final dip in a hot tub where nattering with new friends sews the seed for the next swimming adventure.
I was unfortunately ill for a couple of weeks to the lead up of the Dart 10km, so I couldn’t train as much as I wanted to. I had swum 16km around St Mary’s island in the Isles of Scilly a month beforehand so I knew I could handle the distance if I just cruised at a leisurely pace.
However, last year I competed in my first 10km and was very nervous about it. 10km is the marathon distance equivalent in swimming. It’s a long way! Times can range from anything from 1 hour 56 minutes for the Women’s Olympic world record (so we can forget about that) to well over 4 hours. Which means you’re in the water for a long time.
Here are 5 points to help you out:
1-Know your environment
Swimming outdoors is very different to swimming in a pool. It’s essential to test your swimming environment out before your big event. You will face waves and currents in a sea swim, which will make it tougher, but the salt water will make you more buoyant. If it’s a lake it will be calmer. And, in a river swim you’ll hopefully get a bit of ‘flow’, which will help swoosh you along and knock tonnes of minutes off your time (wahey!) It’s also good to test out your entrance. Some events might have a walk in start- and you can be as leisurely or rapid as you wish. I’d recommend hovering at the back of your wave if you’re nervous. Other events may have a swim start, where you’re already treading water with the other competitors before the start of the race.
Another important point is to learn how to spot. I tend to lift my head after 3 breaths to see I’m on track. You don’t want to be swimming off into the wrong direction.
If you’re swimming roughly 10km throughout the week, you’re in a good place to start training for a 10km event in two months time. Steadily up your distance each session. When I got to 2.5 hours straight without stopping, I was comfortable that I’d be alright to manage a leisurely 10km. I find long distance swimming meditative. So I find a comfortable pace and cruise until the end.
Make sure you have a swim buddy or let someone know where you’re swimming if you’re training in open water, and take a tow float so boat traffic can spot you.
3- Know your kit:
Try out all your kit before the event. Wetsuits vary so much and it would be horrendous to discover that your lovely new body glove of neoprene rubs your skin in the first 100m of your 10km event. The same goes for goggles. Due to the long duration in the water it’s likely that your wetsuit will rub a little bit on the neck and under the arms, so come prepared with some Vaseline or alike and you should be totally fine. You may get a choice whether to swim with or without a wetsuit. If it’s your first event then I’d strongly recommend wearing one, unless it’s in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.
The kit that works for me:
A range of ecolast Zoggs swimwear
Zoggs Predator Flex goggles
A toweling robe to throw on after the event
Try your nutrition before your event. I don’t eat too much for breakfast before a 10km because my stomach can’t handle it. I’ll have a coffee, a banana and nibble on some nuts or a granola bar. Some people like energy gels, but they don’t agree with me. So, please make sure you try whatever you use before the big day.
Also, see what the nutrition is at the feed stations in your event and try and factor them into your training. Remember just to nibble when they’re handed out. You don’t want to sink.
5- Most important point of all….Enjoy it
Soak up the scenery and make sure you mingle and connect with other swimmers at the end of the event. The outdoor swimming community is quite special.