23 Mar 2016
Swimathon 2016 Race Report
And, why I’m never going to take part in the event again*
As a child I was a strong swimmer, but this was at a time when my mum would sew my badges onto my Speedos’. As an adult, I didn’t resume swimming, properly, until 2013. When I moved to Birmingham I began to visit the Douglas Ellis Woodcock swimming pool on the Aston University campus. It is a wonderful, well restored Victorian 25m pool and it wasn’t long before I began to go about five times a week. I would only swim for about an hour, and as a novice, overweight swimmer, who smoked 20 cigarettes a day, it would be fair to say that I was no Michael Phelps.
One day I saw I flyer advertising the Swimathon. The event can be entered at a 1.5 km, 2.5 km or 5 km distance. I entered the 5 km distance and found that having the event on the horizon motivated me to train hard and stay focussed.
Completing the event would ultimately lead me to seek out other events, firstly in the pool, then in open water and ultimately in the form of triathlons. Swimathon started everything for me, but I decided that if I beat my personal best at this year’s event, I would make it the last one. Here’s why…
I finished in 92 minutes and 45 seconds. In the UK, that put me in the position of 29th out of 759 in the age group of 30-34. Happy? Yes, but quitting whilst ahead is not a good enough reason in itself to discontinue an event.
In 2013/14 the event featured a great deal more pageantry. It began with a cringeworthy, but fun group warm-up in the pool, Mr Motivator style, to the sounds of some shit music like Kie$ha. A bit like an OAP water aerobics class, only with a bit less wee.
During the event the volunteers would keep you motivating by yelling platitudes at you like “you can do it”, “don’t stop now” and “your whole life has been leading up to this moment!”. Pure cheese yes, but pleasant and helpful cheese too.
When you got out of the water they would congratulate you like you had just climbed Everest, before putting a medal around your neck and taking you picture.
Who I really feel sorry for
In 2015 I did two 5 km Swimathons one day after another. The first in Worcester and the second was back in Birmingham. These, and the event that we did this year in Gloucester, featured none of the upbeat organisation of the previous years. They were overseen by members of staff, who showed about as much enthusiasm as you might for a PPI sales call whilst you’re eating your dinner.
I remember how hard the events were in 13/14, how hard I worked and how I had absolutely nothing left when I had finished them. I was a lot fitter for the subsequent three events, but I feel bad for the people who were at the level I was at, who did not get to benefit from the enthusiasm and the motivation that the earlier events offered. There was no warm up; we just got in the pool and they said go when you’re ready. The guy counting my lengths even miscounted (over-counted) my lengths and upon completion we were just pointed in the direction of a trestle table where there was a pile of medals.
Guy who came last
I have a great deal of respect for this man, Gordon Mcintosh.
He came dead last in the country for the 5 km distance; that’s 3067th out of 3067. He also came in first place for his age group (80-84) on account of the fact that he was the only person in the category. His 5 km swim took him 4 hours, 13 minutes and 45 seconds, so I suppose a little respect should also be sent the way of the volunteer* who would have had to have stayed poolside counting his lengths, at least two hours after everyone else had finished! Gordon, you are an inspiration.
*I say volunteer, because for the last two years the event has been overseen by members of staff from the leisure facility where the events take place, so the likelihood is that they were getting paid.
What I learned
Although I was happy with my time, it was less than 2 minutes faster than last year’s result, which suggests that I have reached a plateau with my swimming. I think I need to improve my technique in order to progress much further.
*Never say never
Swimathon won’t miss me. I did not raise any money for the last two Swimathons that I did, due to the high volume of events that I participate in,. People do get a bit tired of you asking them for money. That being said, I would like to break the 90-minute barrier, so who knows, if I improve my technique this year, maybe I will be back for Swimathon 2017 after all.