Today the opportunity of being a last minute stand in team-mate took me to the beautiful Blenheim Palace for a bit of open-water swimming at the British Gas ‘SwimBritain’ event. It turns out this magnificently organised event also proved the prefect event for closing of my injury hit season. This may well be the final race report of 2014 but don’t worry, the training and gadget reviews continue as usual.
Here’s how it went….
The early start saw me arrive on site at 07.25 am to witness the palace in near tranquility.
Close by, however, the event organisers had been busy creating an open-water event complete with a vast competitor village to which we were directed by the distinctive turquoise (or is it teal?) themed signs. There were also a few motivational cues along the way!
The entrance to village was still pretty quiet. I was to compete as part of a four man relay team in the first of two identical events, to be repeated at 8.45am & 12.30pm. It was already looking very well organised.
As I wasn’t the team captain I didn’t have to play much part in the registration, so I took the opportunity to take a quick peek at the course. It really is the perfect setting for open-water swimming with only this event and the annual Blenheim Triathlon offering the privilege of swimming in the waters this world heritage site.
The SwimBritain campaign is series of events designed to encourage more people to take up swimming as a regular form of exercise. Blenheim is the only open-water challenge in the series giving the opportunity to experience outdoor swimming under safe and controlled conditions. Being an all-inclusive event it made for a very relaxed atmosphere where competitors were able to take it as seriously or as relaxed as they wished.
As I was a last-minute entrant the captain informed me that I would be known as ‘Team Member 4’ for the purpose of my timing chip. The race pack came complete with a T-shirt for each member, a different colour swim hat (to designate swimming order) and a wrist band to allow entry into the race zone. Pretty good value for the £40 team entry fee.
The course itself is pretty straightforward. From the images above and below you can probably make out the start position on one of 2 identical pontoons leading to an ‘out & back’ course, totalling 250m. The idea is that you swim up to and then around the final large buoy keeping the buoys on your right at all times, leading back to the pontoon. That on its own would be pretty simple but this event is spiced up by each person swimming in relay four times totalling 1,000m per swimmer (4,000 in total for the team). I swam first triggering the timing chip a foot or so before the in/out ramp. On my return to the pontoon I tagged my next teammate who was standing ready for his swim. The handover time was not counted so there was no rush for him to enter the water but merely join the fast-moving queue of competitors ready to enter the lake in single file. There was never a rush or congestion as the two pontoons employed an identical format allowing for a very organised swim entrance and exit. After the fourth team member had exited the swim it was my turn again. This process was repeated four times.
The fun of the event was aided by live commentary together with staff equipped with waterproofed iPads to keep you updated of your laps times. A few celebrity swimmers were posting ridiculously competitive laps, but, for the mere mortals, 250m laps were completed anywhere between three and seven minutes. A full list of results can be found here.
Also to my surprise, was the generous and never ending supply of energy foods available in the ‘energy zone’. Between laps competitors were invited to help themselves to fruit, cereal bars, chocolate, biscuits and even barista style coffee. Oh…and…bananas!
SwimBritain was a great event to attend as a competitor or anybody wishing to spectate within the wonderful Blenheim Palace Estate.
By 10am the sun had made an appearance and it was noticeable that the families of swimmers signed up for the second wave were flocking to the Palace to enjoy the late summer’s day.
If the weather’s like this next year, I think I’ll be coming back for the lunchtime stint!
A brilliant day out in a brilliant venue.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to post any comments or share your own experiences below.