This is getting to be an annual post where I rave about open water swimming and say I’m going to do it regularly then getting up at 6am on a Saturday quickly gets to be too much and I don’t go again until the next year……
A month or so ago I decided to book myself on an open water swim training session as motivation to get swimming. For the last few years, I have spent my summers swimming with RG Active. They do open water training sessions in various places across London, including Hampstead Heath and Stoke Newington Reservoir, but the nicest place for it is Ham Lake, an actual natural lake in Richmond.
The downside is that I have to work out how to get to Richmond for 7.30am on a Saturday morning without a car which is why I haven’t gone all too often! However, I recently realised that from Brixton I could cycle to Clapham Common station, catch an 8 minute train to Richmond, and then cycle at the other end to the lake. The whole thing could take just 40 minutes if it all went to plan.
James’ mum came down to visit us over the bank holiday weekend which meant we spent Friday evening sat outside drinking rosé until it got dark – which at this time of year is not until 10pm. That made my 6am wakeup rather more tricky than I was expecting and I was deep in the middle of a dream when my alarm went off. I pulled the curtains and the glorious blue skies and sun meant I was immediately excited to get in the lake.
The ride to Clapham Junction went well – a beautiful, still morning with no traffic meant I had time to buy a drink at the station before the train. I ate my breakfast on the train, then had to cycle from Richmond station to Ham Lake. I had checked the route on Google maps and thought I knew where I was going so off I went…. It quickly went wrong. Google took me down onto the Thames Path which at this point was either cobbled and soaking wet so horribly slippy, or a muddy path that was no good for my thin road bike tyres.
I tried to tough it out but in the end had to backtrack and find a new route. Richmond was horrible at this time in the morning. The weather the previous day had obviously meant everyone had been outside enjoying the sun and every patch of grass was just covered in rubbish, as if people had been eating and drinking all night and hadn’t bothered to pack up anything as they left.
But anyway. I manoeuvred my way through the rubbish and back onto the actual road and finally reached Ham Lake, a few minutes late but before anyone had got into the water. I quickly pulled my wetsuit over my trisuit and in I went, wincing as the water came in the neck of my wetsuit but after the initial shock I realised it really wasn’t cold at all.
RG Active now splits their Saturday Ham Lake session into two training sessions. One group is the “novice” group. This is for you if it is your first time in a wetsuit, first time in a lake, and/or you’re not that confident a swimmer. The first summer I went, I was part of the novice group until the very end of the summer. The novice group does more drills to get used to the feel of the wetsuit and the different way of swimming in it, there is more actual “coaching” and the distances swum will be shorter, with more frequent rests.
This year I was joining the second group, the “advanced” group. There were a whole host of abilities in this group and I was annoyed to realise I was near the back after previously being mid-to-front of the pack! That is what happens when you’ve only swum 2 or 3 times in 5 months I guess…. We swam further distances but still did some drills, like a no-kick drill, or swims focusing on hand placement or sighting. We also did a number of sprints. These really tired me out!
We swam for about an hour or so then slowly made our way out of the lake. At RG Active sessions in Stoke Newington, people regularly have a coffee in the cafe after the session, but there’s no cafe at Ham Lake so I pulled on my cycle jersey, stuffed my wetsuit in my bag, and cycled home via Richmond Park.
I was exhausted! I cycled very slowly home, and the next day my arms were achey. Sitting out some of the swims, I managed almost 1500m which is over double what I’ve done in any one session so far this year.
Swimming with RG Active has brought my swimming on so much in previous years and really gave me confidence in open water. It is so much fun and there is a real sense of achievement to have done so much by 9am on a Saturday morning! Now I’ve worked out my route for how to get there and back I will definitely be going again!