25 July 2014
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Event review: The British Gas Great London Swim

July 30, 2010

You don’t have to head to the coast or countryside to get the chance to swim outdoors. In fact, you can love open-water whilst being completely land-locked.

Great-London-SwimThe British Gas Great Swim series hosts the Great London Swim, a one-mile open-water mass-participation event which this year was enjoyed by 5,000 swimmers. I was one of them.

I joined supermodel Jodie Kidd (pictured right) and thousands of others – many of them first-timers – in the Royal Victoria Dock at London’s ExCel. The Great London Swim is one of four events in the Great Swim Series, all of which give new and experienced open-water swimmers the chance to swim a mile in open-water under supervised conditions. It’s a great way to dip your toe in the water, so to speak.

Pre-Event

I travelled from Berkshire for the event, driving across London to ExCel. The athlete village, complete with changing facilities, toilets, refreshments, sponsor stands and photography, was slick and organised. It took me no time at all to change, drop my bag and assemble with hundreds of others ready for the first swim of the day.

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More event reviews:

Race review: The Nokia Windsor Triathlon

Race review: Caledonia Etape

Race review: The Better Half

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You need to provide your own goggles and wetsuit (although sponsors Aqua Sphere hire out the latter), but the Great London Swim supply swimming hat and the all-important timing chip.

With so many swimmers (participation was up five times on last year’s inaugural event), the races were split into “waves” and I was in the first lot of swimmers to take to the water.

Even at 8:30am, the sun was hot and the water – showing the effects of recent sunshine – was a comfortable 21°C. Before the race briefing we had access to a small area of water in which we could warm up.

British open-water champ Dave Davies started the race off and then we were in the water.

The Course

I love open-water swimming but in recent years I’ve moved away from the sport to take part in triathlons. The best bit about the Great London Swim, for me, was the opportunity to return to simply swimming.

I knew I didn’t have anything else to think about and that the swim was all I had to do. I could really relax and enjoy every moment. The water wasn’t cold at all (I felt glad I wasn’t swimming later in the day) and, whilst it was a murky green colour, it wasn’t dirty. In fact, it seemed to have a slightly salty tang!

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The event starts on land (competitors run down a short stretch of shingle and over a timing mat before entering the water) before the one-mile swim. We made our way East along the Dock, the route marked by huge buoys which were hard to miss even in the low morning light.

As I turned my head to breathe, I could see the magnificent industrial brick warehouses of London’s Docklands. We passed under a bridge, before coming to the final buoy.

Turning left towards the ExCel, we were past the halfway point and heading for the finish. As we swam back, I could clearly see people on balconies at the ExCel and neighbouring apartments, clapping and cheering all the swimmers. Support throughout the event was great, even at 8:30am!

Bright orange buoys marked the final stretch of the swim, and I picked up the pace and passed a few swimmers. I was really enjoying myself and having a great swim.

At the finish, I had to pull myself up onto a pontoon (although there were helpers there to give a hand) and run a short distance to a timing mat before the chip around my ankle registered my finish time.

Within moments of finishing, I’d been handed a pair of Great Swim series flip-flops, a bottle of water and goodie-bag by one of a group of volunteers (drawn from local community groups) and had my photo taken by the event photographers.

Back in the athlete village, there was no rush to change and grab a bite to eat. Competitors were encouraged to stay to watch the elite races featuring some of the world’s best open-water swimmers.

Would I do it again?

I’d love to – but why stop at the Great London Swim? The series has four events to choose from!

Good points

  • Great organisation
  • Friendly, encouraging atmosphere for first-timers
  • A choice of start-times throughout the day
  • Easy wetsuit hire if you need one
  • Medal, goodie-bag, water and flip-flops as you finish
  • A chance to see Olympic medallists in the elite race

Any negatives?

  • An early start – but I did choose my start-time!
  • The run to the timing mat at the end will add to your swim time

What’s next?

Well, there’s still three swims left to the British Gas series, so perhaps the Great Scottish, Great North or Great Salford. See here for more details if you fancy joining in!

Nicola Joyce, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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