Sea swimming and the Forestman

The New Forest, 12th July

This weekend I was down in the New Forest supporting my friend and Channel Swim team mate Ruth, as she undertook her first ironman distance triathlon: The Forestman. Although not an official Ironman event, this course is arguably tougher and certainly longer than many long distance triathlons. Arriving bright and early at Ellingham lake for the 5.30am start, around 120 athletes set off on their 3.9k swim. Ruth nailed an impressive 1h17 time into T1. After seeing her onto the bike, Burt and I then headed off – swim gear at the ready – in search of the coast, on leg two of our own triathlon of sorts.

Southbourne is a sandy beach and well manned by the friendly life guards; the ideal place to practise sea swimming. With the team Channel swim just two months away, this was our first experience of English seas this year. Thanks to the warm weather the temperature was a comfortable 17 degrees and we quickly adapted – a relief! We swam for 40 minutes between two groins spaced 200m apart. The tough aspect was maintaining technique as the rough waves battered and buffeted us around. Occassionally a break would sneak up unannounced just as I turned to breath; after a while the horrible salty taste at the back of the throat almost burned. Next time we should probably swim further out from the coastline. All in all a valuable session both for swim strength and fitness, and psychologically in prep for September.

We made it back in time for leg three: a few beers supporting the athletes for most of the hilly marathon course. Hats off to all those that finished; it’s an amazing achievement. Ruth came home in 14h52. Next objective for her is the Channel Swim, and we’ll be hitting the beach again soon for more sea swimming. The weekend also proved a good reconnaissance mission for me for the New Forest 70.3!

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits us in the Channel.

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Cool swimming

As London revels in a mini heat wave – 31 degrees and rising – a great place to cool off are the Ponds in Hampstead Heath. With the London Triathlon looming large, and the English Channel Swim on the horizon, today I headed for the Heath and some more open water practise.

I swam in the mixed pond, located off East Heath Road with it’s own off-street parking and costing only £2 for an adult swim (see Heath map). There are changing facilities and toilets if required, and the Ponds have life guards on hand to ensure safety. Arriving at 5.15pm was a touch late and – given the weather – bathers were out in force. Moreover, the water is very murky due to the shallow depth so siting was doubly difficult. I opted for swimming lengths on the west side, using the reeds and bushes for guidance (the left of the photo below). Unfortunately the water wasn’t as cold as I needed – 20 degrees today – so my quest for gaining 15-18 degree experience (without wetsuit, in prep for the Channel) continues…

Hampstead Heath_Mixed Pond