So, I swam the Dart 10K and what an experience! Looking back on Sunday it was an emotional rollercoaster; from the last-minute nerves at the safety briefing to the elation of finishing and plenty of emotions in between.
With the kind help of many supporters, and including Gift Aid contributions, I have raised nearly £700 for Age UK Exeter. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored and encouraged me on my Dart 10K journey. Really, really appreciate your support as does Age UK Exeter. If you haven’t yet sponsored me and would like to do so my Just Giving page remains open. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rachael-whitson
So, how was it?
I was first off from Totnes at 9.15 in the leisurely wave – the race was brought forward as bad weather was forecast to set in later in the morning. As I entered the water the first thing I noticed was the colour, murky orange and boy was it cold. Heavy rain and run off from up-river meant that the water temperature had dropped significantly overnight, so it was hard to catch my breath. Suddenly, I felt extremely apprehensive #OMG I had a 10K swim (6.25 miles) ahead of me.
Gradually however, I relaxed into my stroke and started to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the River Dart, arguably one of the South West’s most picturesque rivers. Along with hundreds of other swimmers we dodged flotsam aplenty and each other, but at least the flow of the river was strong so we were making good speed.
In no time at all I spotted the first feed station at 4k and grabbed hold of the raft along with dozens of other participants. We were like chicks in a feeding frenzy as the volunteers tried to fill our outstretched arms, grabbing bottles of energy drink and jelly babies to fuel the next 3k of our journey down river.
Refuelled, off I swam picking up speed as the tide took me ever closer to Dittisham. At 5K my fingers were tingling; I realised that I couldn’t feel my toes. I checked in with one of the many helpful lifeguards on the river who reassured me and offered to get me out of the water. I decided to press on and check in again at the 7K feed station.
Preoccupied with my numb fingers and toes, I forgot about the Vaseline that had transferred on to my fingers from my wetsuit – plenty has been applied at the start to prevent my wetsuit chaffing. Stupidly I managed to smear it all over my goggles. Great! I was now freezing and half-blinded by Vaseline covered lenses! I limped on to the 7k feed station and got one of the kind volunteers to wipe my goggles clean.
With more energy and clear goggles, things were looking up. The river was getting warmer too as we progressed nearer Dittisham and I could see the headland around which lay the home straight. Now in the widest part of the estuary, the rain had set in and the water began to get choppy, but I felt spurred on knowing that I only had 3k to go. I was determined to finish the Dart 10K!
Finish I did – in 3hours 20 minutes. It took longer than I’d forecast but then I hadn’t allowed for such cold conditions or having to swim half-blind! I stumbled out of the water at the Ham in Dittisham aided by yet another kind volunteer – to onlookers it must have looked as if I’d been on the sauce; I had little co-ordination having been in the water for over 3 hours. I was also sporting a rather ginger moustache – #notagoodlook – from the muddy water.
Still, a hot chocolate soon restored me and suddenly I felt immensely proud of my achievement; it was only March 2015 that I’d enlisted the help of a swimming coach. At that point, I’d not swum since school and I couldn’t even manage a 25m length of front crawl. Just goes to show what you can achieve with a focus and lots of determination.
Would I do the Dart 10K again? I think not, but I will set myself another challenge and I will continue with my open water swimming, just maybe not for a week or so.