This is my experience of Swim Serpentine 2023 as a slow swimmer. Regular readers will know that the Swim Serpentine was cancelled in 2022 due to the tragic passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Then we had the option to refund or defer in 2023 due to blue algae.
This actually made things a bit different as people signed up to the time limited/fast pink wave because they couldn’t get in any other wave. But then it may have been quieter because of the option to cancel. Also previously I have written about our training and planning of the day.
Travelling to the Swim Serpentine
We had a nightmare experience with National Express getting there. Which we are still awaiting them to help resolve it. It meant that we had a very energetic walk to get there – not even knowing if we would be able to swim! Personally I would advise people go down the night before!
Guided by Google Maps we obviously went the quickest way. Turns out we may have been better to get off at Earls Court but there wasn’t time to work this out. Luckily it was quite well sign-posted as we got closer too.
As we arrived at the Serpentine we saw our wave setting off – and we still had to walk to the other end of the lake to register. It was VERY stressful! Not having done it before I didn’t know where I was meant to go, or what I was meant to do!
Luckily, one of my friends had hurried ahead and told me that they said we had like 15 minutes to get changed, drop our bags off, get round to the start and get in! Resulting in me totally forgetting that I was meant to find out if they had a bigger swim hat for me.
Getting into the Changing Area
To get into the changing area you needed your wave coloured wrist band. But in the rush I just couldn’t find mine. My anxiety was through the roof! My husband wasn’t with me now either, although he could have come up this far if I hadn’t have run off due to the lack of time!
This was actually the second time I had cried that day! Sat on the floor I emptied out my bag and luckily found it.
After changing we handed over our number labelled bags went out of the area only swimmers could go. Each bag drop corresponded to the last number on your swimming number. This meant that we were now back where the spectators are allowed, so could have given my husband things then. We were still hurrying along, still not knowing if we had been quick enough to get in.
We just about made it. Although, I hadn’t sorted myself out properly and didn’t get the photos etc I wanted beforehand. We actually cut it so fine that when we passed into the swimmers only area they thought we were for the next wave! The ankle tags were tapped on a board and someone on a computer confirmed it was me.
The Swim Serpentine 2 Miles Itself
As it happened there was another couple got in the same time as us. Only advice I heard was to stay to the right of the red buoys, and off we all went.
The water was so lovely and warm that we walked in but didn’t have to warm up first. There’s a bit of a slope and a hand rail. Since I have seen the racing swimmers in the final wave literally just dived in and went. So much for my worrying about the blue-green algae risk!
The Kayakers at Swim Serpentine
Thanks to a Facebook group I am in I had been told lots of helpful information to help me feel confident before I arrived. One of the things they had said was about all the kayakers in the water to ensure safety. In fact there were swim safety people everywhere. They did an absolute phenomenal job! Thank you all. Not only for constantly making sure we were all safe, but happy too (those of us who had our faces out the water anyway!).
The ankle band (which we had to tap in with) straight away and annoyed me like it was going to fall off. Luckily I had swim shoes on and there was a safety pin on it. But with the rush I hadn’t quite secured it how I wanted and had only used water safety pin. The kayakers said it was fine if it came off – and I did swim passed one. Same with the hats – my friend’s kept coming off and she was told not to worry and stuff it down her top.
Not The Swim I thought it Would Be
Have to admit I had visions of swimming in a slow chatty crowd. Lots of people had said they were slow but there wasn’t anyone else about. Maybe this was because we had totally lost our wave getting in.
Soon my one friend was zooming off ahead and when I looked back my other friend had fell a little distance behind. There was a woman on a kayak talking to the latter as she swam. By this point we were already at the first turning buoys. Once we were heading back down the lake I hung onto my tow float until my friend caught up. The woman in the kayak immediately checking I was okay.
Her name was Rachel and she stayed with us for a while. Explaining that she had to stay at the back of our wave to make sure everyone was accounted for. It wasn’t long until we passed someone in our wave and she had to stay with him, so we said our goodbyes.
The Blue Hats
The swim was going nicely and it was a lovely day but then the next wave caught us up. Despite swimming wide it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. A lot of them just swam into us, one knocking my shoe and generally just being rude as they passed. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t all like that but it was quite a scary experience. It even put me off getting my almost 16 year old to swim it next year and he’s a really strong swimmer!
Beautiful Experience at Swim Serpentine
On the other hand, there were some lovely blue hats who lifted their faces out of the water and experienced what we did! Normally you cannot swim in the Serpentine Lake like this and it was so beautiful. Especially considering we were in central London. The birds came so close too! One of the kayakers explained that sometimes you even get parrots there!
Anyway back to the nice blue hats, they’d have a nice little chat, check we were okay and then would get back on with swimming as fast as they could.
The other thing we saw because we had our heads out was someone knock a pushchair and all the stuff went tumbling into the lake and she jumped in to save it! Another time a swimmer was trying to get his daughter’s attention – so I got it for him.
The Turning Points and the Pink Hats
Mostly the chaos was at the turning points but not always. As we completed our first lap of a mile I realised that the Pink hats wouldn’t be long before they were out. If we had started when we were meant to of 2:30 it would have given us 2 hours and 5 minutes until the pink hats would have started, and a chance of being out the water before they got there.
Now I realise this was unrealistic because each wave could take 20 minutes to get into the water; that we were slower than 2 hours and 5 minutes and because the pink hats were fast! It literally took minutes for that first pink hat, Alex Casey, to be at the turning point where we were! My friend told me not to look back but I did and suddenly there were just loads of pink hats charging towards us. Then I realised that we had swum too close to the central buoy.
Panicked I tried to front crawl to the outer buoys but I got cramp and could not move. Now I was stuck right in the middle of where they all were. But the young man on the buoy came straight over to help me. It is the only time I actually had to hold on to a kayak and rub my leg a bit.
The pink hats at the end of the day were the only adult race. It was actually incredible to see the front swimmer, Alex Casey, go passed us TWICE! Although the results say a different time both my husband (on land) and myself (in the water) said that he took 37 minutes!! Thirty-seven minutes to swim two miles!!! I can just about do a half a mile in 30! Resultsa said about 40 minutes but we still think it was quicker than that.
Of course he stayed to the middle and it wasn’t a problem. But the others were just going wide because other pink hats were in their way!
As I say some of the pink hats were only in this wave because they couldn’t get into any other wave with all the deferrals. They also only had a 90 minute cut off point. The rest of the waves had until the end of their cut off point too.
Without my glasses it was tricky to see where the finish was. It was clear that other swimmers also thought it split off earlier too. My friend and I had stayed together all the way round but she knew I wanted to try and go a bit faster for that last little bit.
Honestly I can’t swim, I can keep myself above water. Our son tells me all the time that my technique is poor. But still I liked to give it a go. Swimming skins meant I had a bright tow float so I was pretty easy to spot and there was room around me. But still somehow someone managed to get me covered in water that I swallowed it and felt like I was drowning. If I hadn’t have been so close to the end I may have panicked more. Usually I can only get rid of this feeling by standing up/holding on to the side.
There is a barrier above you head as you finish too. Things like this, that I am not expecting, really throw me. The floor felt like it was never appearing and I held on to the rail.
Out the Water
When I got out my legs didn’t work and I felt shaky. Again the staff were on it, asking if I were okay and suggesting that I stayed there. So I found my phone and tried to get photos of my friend finishing. My cognition wasn’t great at this point so they weren’t great!
Once through the finish I could see my husband. He took pictures and passed me a much needed bottle of water, which I had drunk before I even collected my medal. Note that I had worked really hard all week to ensure I was as hydrated as can be, even cutting right back on coffee!
In fact things are a bit of a haze in what happened in what order next but I tapped out, had water and my medal given to me. A photographer took our photo against a wall. We were not allowed to take our own.
When I got my things from the bag drop I didn’t feel it was as inclusive as the rest of the day had been. This was a shame but a throwaway comment about wondering what had happened to me because it was the only one left in my wave.
We got changed in the communal changing area then joined the rest of our party. We picked up a free hot chocolate and then went to look at the merchandise.
Going Back Home
There wasn’t much time really before getting back on the coach. McDonalds was heaving and we ended up with just a meal deal from Sainsbury’s. Thankfully National Express was on time!
Thoughts as a Slow Swimmer at Swim Serpentine
Honestly I am not going to say it was easy. It got very tiring and a bit boring to just keep going. Luckily I did have my friend for company. Compared to the London Marathon it was absolutely nothing. Personally I did not feel it was a challenge. Possibly this is because we didn’t just go as fast as we could but mainly I think this was because the water was really warm. Think it was 21 degrees and could have been more 14 (which I had swum a mile in Scotland in).
The hardest part for me is by far the lack of consideration from a lot of the other swimmers. Possibly training in open water swim races may have helped – but honestly I think they would have just put me off. Being a very weak swimmer it isn’t something I am in a hurry to do again.