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Tuesday 4 November 2014

Night Swimming Race Report: Alien Impersonators and Not Following thePoo

The water was as black as tar and it was a dark night. Stars peppered the sky overhead, emphasising the darkness.

“I knew I shouldn’t have brought my tinted goggles” said Lozza.

We were at a night swim organised by Brutal Events. It was cold, although thanks to the amount of swimmers in the water it was now warming up slightly. I didn’t like to think why. My wetsuit hadn't been wee-ed in, but was probably now being wee-ed ON. Sigh.

The sunset that evening had been beautiful, like petrol poured onto a puddle but it was a cold night. I thought longingly of the soft shoes, I’d seen some of the other swimmers wearing – my feet were freezing. The marshal we’d spoken to had confirmed the water temperature at about 9 degrees but it felt much colder.

We had all been given glowsticks to hang onto our goggle straps so we would be visible. It had been a challenge trying to position them so we wouldn’t lose them in the lake or get smacked in the eye by them every time we took a stroke. Blinded by the light ...

We finally got them positioned and took a photo of us all lit up. However, rather than the encouragement we’d hoped for, it was suggested that the finished result with our swimming caps on made us look remarkably like the poster for the original Alien film. 

The water of the lake, while dark was beautifully clear. I had done my usual thing of bobbing underwater as soon as I climbed into the lake. It’s like a tradition. I start practising my breathing and blow bubbles underwater. It keeps me occupied and focuses my attention. The clarity of the water was startling, I could see my hand in the water, glowing dimly green, like a corpse hand.

This wasn’t to be a race for Liz, Lozza and myself, but a celebration and finale of a successful season of openwater swimming. We’d achieved so much this season and this would be a great close to it. As a result, we’d decided to swim around together and enjoy the novelty of swimming in a lake at night.

As the start was very crowded, we decided to start near the back so the pack would thin out and we could keep an eye on each other and swim together without blocking other swimmers. However, despite our good intentions, we soon found this was a mistake. We were stuck behind The Breaststrokers. Now out of the water, I’m sure a Breastroker is a lovely person. Warm and generous, probably with a love of dogs and children and kind to old people.  But in the water they’re a bloody menace. A menace with the kick of a mule and the same compassion as a rattlesnake. A grumpy one.

I got kicked in the head, in the face and twice hard in the side intentionally. Luckily they soon disappeared behind us as we were swimming faster and I restrained myself from any revenge kickings. They’d probably have drowned and eaten me.

As we swam, I started to warm up and enjoy the sensation of swimming in the dark. It was impossible to tell which swimmers were Lozza and Liz, but we were used to swimming at a similar speed so we managed to stay together, although every now and then our voices would drift over the inky water checking, “Liz?” “Lozza?” “Sarah?”

One problem about swimming together at night is that there aren’t many visual cues as to how close you all are together. Lozza, swimming in the middle, between Liz and me, was getting pinballed off of both of us and I developed a fear response to seeing a glowstick on my left – Lozza’s - as it meant her right arm would be coming up and I was about to get smacked in the face. However, we were quite possibly the most polite open water swimmers ever. “Sorry!” “Soz!” “Sorry!” We could tell where the others were by the echoes of the apologies across the water.

The course was marked by buoys, which were of course invisible against the black water at night. The organisers had countered this by hanging glowsticks from the tops of the buoys so we would be able to see the corners of the course by the dim green glow of these.

The glowsticks on top of the buoys had been a great idea while all of the swimmers were on the bank waiting to enter the water. The green lights glowed brightly on the bobbing buoys, clear against the black water. However as soon as 300 swimmers were in the water, each sporting their own glowstick, the distinction had become less clear. It became a case of following the pack and hoping the swimmer at the front was heading for the next buoy rather than going for a sneaky poo.

Luckily, we all appeared to be heading in the same direction and no unidentified objects had been felt in the water – apart from some poor blokes bum which I accidentally poked quite hard when he crossed in front of me – and before we knew it, we’d finished the first lap and were passing the first buoy again. Or at least the dark shape against the water where we assumed the buoy to be.

The lake cleared after the first lap and we were able to do our second circuit with more space. I was really enjoying this. Despite how slowly we were swimming, the time was flying past and it was a joy to be swimming in the inky water under the wide dark sky. And with the glowsticks gleaming on each swimmer, the effect was ephemeral, like we were aqueous fireflies.

We rounded the final marker, spotting the glowsticks looped on the apex and knew we were nearly finished, that our night adventure was nearly over.

We heard the voices of the marshals and felt the lake floor under our feet, then a strong hand helping us onto the pontoon, the lake water draining from our wetsuits. We were done.

Our first night swim, our last open water swim of 2014.

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