London Region Open Water Championships

London Region Open Water Championships

Today I raced again in a regional open water championships under Swim England rules, my second year to do so. Now I have joined South London Swimming Club so I raced for a London club in the London regional competition for a national qualifying place. The top 3 in each age group in the national distance (5 km for 19+) are qualified into the nationals. I wanted to do this race because I would like to see if I could actually get a qualifying place, as I missed the chance last year when the race was undersubscribed. However, it turned out that the field this year was so strong, with 8 people in total with some record-breaking names, my hope was vanished.

The race this year was held in Merchant Taylors’ School in Sandy Lodge, near Moor Park, Hertfordshire, which is a short journey from my home in Willesden Green compared to last year in Whitlingham, South Norfolk, and also an extremely cheap journey as it is just a zones 3-6 off-peak tube journey. I signed up for the 5 km national qualifier. There were 8 competitors in total in the 19+ age group, but for medal awarding purpose, the 19+ age group was further divided into 10-year groups, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, etc.,

Pre-race briefing

The briefing started at 09:40 and the race started at 10:30. The water temperature was 20°C, the weather was cloudy becoming sunny, and the wind was 9-11 mph (ouch). During the briefing, when the Technical Director was explaining the course, he was called from the radio to sort out a problem in the 1 km race happening at that time. It turned out that a swimmer ended up off-course! In the diagram below, the course was to turn from turn 2 to turn 3 directly, but the swimmer ended up rounding the island in the far top-right of the picture below.

Course Layout – the final colours used were not the same, instead orange was used for turns, red was used for markers

The course was 5 laps of the above 1 km loop, passing through the finish funnel every lap. Males started first, with females 5 minutes later. The cut off was 1 hour and 45 minutes. It would be challenging for me as last year my time was 1:55:50, which I expected the improvement I’ve got would get me down to about 1:40, depending on how much drafting I could get. According to the World Aquatics (formerly FINA) regulations effective from 1 January 2023, only a swimsuit can be used if the water temperature is above 18°C (I wouldn’t compete if the race was wetsuit legal as I didn’t have one and had never trained in one.). Also, no watches and jewellery are allowed, and nails have to be cut short due to safety reasons.

The race

Water start was used in the race. As it was not as calm as I hoped, and the cut off was tight, I was so stressed at the beginning, and I couldn’t calm down and get my breathing under control when the race started. The cut off time of 105 minutes is equivalent to 21 minutes per 1 km lap, and if there was even a little bit of waves and chops, I may well go over this time. After starting, I tried to find a drafting target as soon as possible before the pack was gone, but I couldn’t keep up for long. Around 3/4 into the first lap, the girls who started 5 minutes behind started passing me, and they were too fast for me to draft off.

Into the 2nd lap, more and more girls appeared. I tried my best to keep up behind them, but I couldn’t even follow any single one of them for a significant distance. By the end of the 2nd lap, I was lapped by the fastest boys. I was really worried if I would made the cut off as we weren’t allowed to wear a watch, and there was no way I could know how fast the fastest boys were. During the 3rd lap, more boys lapped me as well, and the fastest girls also started to lap me towards the end of the lap.

I started the 4th lap, suddenly it became a bit choppy and I felt that I lost my speed as I started to get tired. I tried to put more force into each stroke to get back my speed, or to increase my stroke rate, but I felt each segment took me a long time despite it wasn’t far away. I was really worried if I could still make the cut off. I had never drafted off anyone for a significant distance during the race. Most people had already finished by that point but I still had the final lap to go. The lake remained choppy and I could no longer see anyone around me as most people had gone by that point. I put in my maximum race effort hoping that I could finish in time, rather than get pulled at the time limit.

I completed the final lap, touched the finish banner and exited the lake. I was the last male to finish but there were a few females behind me. My only concern was if I could really make the cut off to have an official result listed so I waited until it came out. The prize ceremony started after the 2 km race was set off, and my name was announced as I was the only competitor in the 30-39 age group. I took my medal and confirmed my valid result. My official time was 1:31:00.55, 8th out of 8 in the 19+ national qualifier, so I didn’t qualify for the nationals. The winning time in the 19+ age group was 0:59:17.99, and the 3rd place was 1:07:48.21.

Male results


In terms of the time, I exceeded my expectation for 5 km which confirmed the improvement I gained during the last year. I was about 25 minutes faster than last year so it was a huge improvement for me. This race was a rare occasion in swimming where I didn’t have any disappointment receiving my result.

However, I may need to adjust my expectation again. The field has become much stronger than my previous expectation as a result of 1:20 would be within the top 3 in most previous years, but this year it was 1:07:48.21, about 23 minutes faster than my current time. I can reasonably aim for another 10 minutes improvement if I continue my training over the next winter, but 23 minutes is a very large gap and, at best, it will take me a few years of hard work to reach, or possibly not. I was lapped after the 2nd lap today, and I would need to not get lapped at all in order to reach that time which is really beyond my forseeable ability.

I will need to think about later what I really want, if it is still really worthwhile me to put effort into swimming or not, or if it is better off for me to do some other sports to an elite / professional level instead.

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