Never mind the rain: Simon John Parkin’s Marlow experience

John Parkins Marlow

Eight o’clock on Sunday morning, 25 August 13, doing star jumps in the pouring rain, squeezed into a wetsuit and a bright yellow cap that makes my head look like a giant misshapen lemon, I wonder what, exactly, I am doing and why I signed up for the Human Race, Marlow Open Water Swim.

As my wave of lemon-headed swimmers shuffle forward I try not to think about the nearby sewage treatment works or the manure and pesticides running off sodden upstream fields after 24 hours of rain. Feeling more like a lemming than a swimmer, I follow the others into a swollen Thames with a plop and splutter. Was that a shopping trolley my feet just bumped against? The starting horn feebly squeaks and we’re off; 60 lemons floating down the Thames. I fight my nerves, adrenaline takes over, my head plunges underwater and...

I have my most enjoyable swim ever. The water is amazingly clear and tastes sweet on my lips. I can see my family on the bank cheering me on as we swim towards the magnificent Marlow Bridge. The inflatable course markers seem an awfully long way off but there is a lovely atmosphere among the swimmers which keeps me motivated. The safety crew hover nearby in their kayaks shouting encouragement. One of them checks I’m okay as I huff and puff past him after a strenuous burst of freestyle.

I finally see the finishing gate and sprint the last few metres to cheers from a rain-soaked crowd.

What a great morning! It was tough at points as I’d never swum that distance before without having to hold on to the side of the pool to catch my breath, but the sense of satisfaction and achievement in having finished is immense and I’m on a high for the rest of the day. The rest of the week and month in fact.

01 Cover July 21

Issue 51 July 2021

  • Linford Christie on his new interest in outdoor swimming and the secrets behind his success
  • The Icebreakers, a group using cold water swimming to support men's mental health
  • Triple-amputee and former Royal Marine Mark Ormrod on completing a 1km sea swim and inspiring others
  • James Pittar, the first blind swimmer to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
  • The frontline workers finding solace in outdoor swimming France’s hidden wild swim spots
  • The revolution in women’s swimwear

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