My big Marathon swim – Becky Horsbrugh – #TeamSelkie

My big Marathon swim

If someone had said to me six months ago how about swimming 10 kilometres in a pool, my response would have been along the lines of not on your nellie, or something less polite. However after deciding to do a 16 kilometre swim in Bangladesh in January I realised there were very few events over the winter time to really test my distance swimming. I am not great with the cold, and living in central London there are very few places to open water swim in the autumn and winter anyway. So when I saw the first ever Marathon Swims event advertised I realised that really it would be wise to enter.

The format was unusual too. Rather than just swim up and down just one lane, all competitors started in the far corner, swam up and down one lane and then switched to the next. Then when that one was completed you switched to the third lane and worked your way across the pool to the corner. Fortunately the event was at the stunning Olympic Pool at the Aquatics Centre, so at least each lane was 50 metres. So by the end one kilometre was completed. There were entrants swimming 1km, 5km and 10km and the event ran all day. My start time was at 4pm and I was rather concerned to be in what they called the fast group! Our start times were decided on our estimated swim times, but it was actually quite tricky deciding what time to give. You had to allow for not only the swim time, but the time getting out and walking to the start again for each kilometre, plus time stopped for taking a drink or eating something.


I’m not really used to doing an event so late in the day so it was tricky as well conserving energy and getting the eating right beforehand. I live very close to Olympic Park and in the end got there pretty early to watch the swimmers who had started in previous heats. It looked slightly busy but seemed to be flowing well in the pool. Finally our time arrived, and it was our turn to start. My main aim was to just make sure I completed the distance, and use the occasion as a great mental and physical test for my swim in January.

The first kilometre was rather manic. I tried not to set off too fast, knowing I had a good 3 and a half hours of swimming ahead of me. Yet with the adrenaline flowing and lots of other swimmers around me, it was easy to fall into that trap of sprinting off at a fair speed. Somewhat annoyingly too they made the fastest group set off with the slowest from that group first, so over that first kilometre I ended up with several swimmers overtaking me in quick succession – as the top fast swimmers were extremely fast! Mentally that was hard as It does tend to make you feel you are a rubbish swimmer. But I simply had to ignore this, as I had so far to go. It was pretty rough too. The rules were no overtaking in the last 5 kilometres of each lane, and the usual rule applied as well that you tapped the toes of the person in front of you if you were swimming faster, so that when you got to the end they were supposed to let you go first. However not all swimmers did the latter! (unsurprisingly) and there were some really rough swimmers who just barged at you at the end. I have the bruised to prove this! I also knocked my arms several times with others when they got too close swimming alongside. It was very crowded at times as well and I had to pause several times to let faster swimmers go in front of me. I definitely think the organisers need to look into the format if they run it again next year as it really was too packed at times. But whatever the frustrations and the pain, I just kept telling myself keep going. Don’t get frustrated or annoyed.


The first hour – the first 3 kilometres for me – went by fairly quickly and I was feeling quite strong. It was a bit tricky to know when to stop and drink and eat, but once again this was a great test for me learning what fuel I need. I got to the half way point after around an hour and forty minutes and was pleased I was on schedule time wise. It then started to get a bit more tough. I had to stop myself thinking I need to do this distance I’ve just swum all over again. And with the format out getting out of the pool after every km it was so tempted to just throw in the towel and just go home and eat lots of cake. But I know I had to complete the swim.

I cannot lie the last 3 kilometres felt like they lasted forever. By this point the pool was quite empty which was great space wise, but I always find if you have other swimmers around it does push you to go that bit faster. My arms were really aching at this point and my neck was hurting as I had spent so much time looking up when the pool was busy, trying not to clash with other swimmers. I just knew I shouldn’t stop. I kept thinking of my friends in Bangladesh and what they would be saying if they could see me swim, and how my training was for an even more epic swim in January. I did not want to be a quitter. Finally I entered the water for the last kilometre. I counted down the 50 metre lanes from 20 to the final one, each stroke saying in my head which number that was so either ’12, 12, 12′ or ‘6, 6,6’ and so on. Finally I was on 1. I couldn’t believe it was all almost over. I got out and was so relieved I didn’t have to swim another stroke. My throat was killing me too every time I swallowed. Yet I hadn’t been aware of this at all during the swim. I was slightly over my swim time – I was in the water for around 3 hours and 38 minutes, but just happy really to have got through it all.


It was a great learning experience – mentally and physically. The next morning I felt knackered but not too stiff, though with a bad cold. The event has certainly helped me realise what I need to concentrate on with my swim training over the next 2 months. I know a 16 kilometre sea swim in Bangladesh is a completely different kettle of fish, but it is a challenge such as this one was. If I can be as stubborn as I was in the Olympic Pool to keep going, then hopefully swimming the Bangla Channel will also be a success. I intend to make sure it is so.