Carine Evans shares her experience of taking part in an iconic swimming event, the Dart 10K in beautiful Devon
I travelled to Devon with my friend Janet arriving in Paignton on Friday afternoon, where we were staying for the night before the event. We drove over to Totnes to pick up our packs, which we were very glad we did as we were nervous and seemed to have so many questions! There were so many people there to answer questions and help to reassure us! It was also great to have a chance to check out where we were going to be starting from the next morning.
After a ‘carb loading’ meal of gorgeous freshly caught beer battered fish and chips in Paignton on Friday evening, we decided to try and hit the sack early. I debated whether I should just go to bed in all my kit as we had to get up so early!! There was a great deal of ‘swim kit faff’ before bed as we were trying to make sure we had everything ready for the next morning.
After not a very good night sleep, the alarm went off at 5am. We had a porridge pot each and got ourselves ready to leave by 5:45am consequently, we arrived at the car park in Greenway so early! However, it meant we were on the first bus to Totnes, watching the sun rise as we went. The bus had a little bit of quiet chatter as everyone was clearly feeling nervous and still half asleep.
When we arrived at the start, we started to feel the buzz of the event and a coffee and flapjack from the van really helped! The sun was shining, the river was like a mill pond, calm and still, we were so lucky to have such great conditions. We got chatting with other swimmers and the volunteers, everyone was super friendly and helpful. We were all looking at the water and feeling the temperature (16 degrees) and trying to decide what bits of kit to wear and leave behind. I opted to wear both my wet suit socks and gloves as I knew I probably could stuff them down my wet suit if I needed to, but really did not want to be cold!
When it got to the point of the pre-swim briefings, I waved my friends Janet and Abi off as they were in the orange group before me. It was starting to get real, I was looking around nervously never having done anything like this before, whilst trying to remember all the important points from the briefing, I was also telling myself I could swim and I had done lots of training and would be OK!
As I entered the water, the words of Ian, the Level Water organiser were going around in my head ‘Remember the winners today are the ones that enjoy it the most!’ The previously flat water became choppy with everyone starting to swim at which point, for some completely random reason, I started singing Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill in my head – which actually helped to calm me down and get me into a rhythm. That song stayed with me for several kilometres!!
I decided to stay on the edge of the pack (not always known for my straight line swimming and not wanting to bump into everyone!) So I settled for as far towards the centre of the river as I could get away with(!) as I knew the flow would be a bit faster and help me along. I had a gold hat swimmer ahead of me (very experienced Dart 10K swimmer) so I tried to stick with him, as I thought – he must know what he’s doing!
Whilst us swimmers did end up bumping into each other, it was all very good-natured with lots of apologies and opportunities to have a friendly quick chat with others and made it all part of the fun of the swim.
The scenery was beautiful, even when swimming front crawl with just little glimpses to the side, you could still see the rolling hills around. I did have to have little breaststroke breaks, just to take it all in occasionally. I couldn’t believe it when we hit the first feed station at 4K, I have NEVER swam 4K that fast before! I grabbed hold of the side to stop me from floating downstream with the flow. It was a bit crazy – like a mother bird trying to feed all her chirping chicks at once! With some water and a couple of Jelly Babies on board, I set off again. Jury is definitely out on the vegan jelly sweets, I could not get them out of my teeth and decided flapjacks would definitely be the way forward at the next feeding station! (You get a lot of time to think…!)
The lifeguards on the paddle boards were so friendly and I felt really safe as there were lots around and they were with us all the way. On the next part of the course we had a few bends to navigate and the flow seemed to really speed up. So by the time I got to the next feed station, I really needed to hang on tight to stop being taken off downstream – there was a bit of leg wrapping and hugging going on to prevent people drifting away! Flapjacks were definitely a better choice this time!
As I floated away, I gleefully shouted ‘Only 3K left!’ to my lovely lifeguard on his SUP who had been with me all the way down the river! Little did I know this would be the hardest part of the swim! It was a real challenge and the part where I had to dig really deep. We were swimming through a huge estuary by this point. My shoulders were hurting, conditions were choppy and I was starting to wonder WHY I was doing this ridiculously hard swim! I started to sing some of my favourite songs (The Wombats) and gave myself a bit of a talking to! I reminded myself how privileged I was to be able to swim at all and be able to swim down such a beautiful river with fabulous views you can only get from the water. Also knowing someone was going to hand me a hot chocolate once I was out and on dry land kept me going! (In my head I did think ‘it better be Cadbury’s’ and I was doubly delighted to find that it was!!)
The sight of the finish flags in the distance spurred me on as I came round the final bend. I was both happy and relieved to be helped up the ramp onto the pontoon at the end. I was buzzing and the atmosphere of the supporters and other swimmers just added to it. The event village at the top of the hill was full of excitement, with swimmers chatting and congratulating each other (and also talking about how hard the final 3K was!) The Persian chicken wraps were delicious and just what we needed after our marathon swim. I sat on hay bales with my friends Janet and Abi whilst we shared all our experiences and listened to the ‘Old Gaffers’ singing sea shanties. We felt very pleased with ourselves!
Would I do it again? Yes absolutely.
Would I recommend it to others? Again a big YES! If you have never done anything like this before (like me) and would like to find a swim event to challenge yourself that isn’t a super competitive race – then Dart 10k might be it! The water is relatively warm compared to other long swims & you will feel safe & supported. The incredibly upbeat team of people running the event adds massively to the whole experience. Give it a go & raise some money for those less able than yourself to access swimming lessons! I would also recommend that you do some training – there is even a training plan available beforehand, as it helps you enjoy the event much more.
Our friends back at our usual lake at Taplow were so full of congratulations and wanted to hear all about our 10K experience, which meant we were buzzing all over again! I’ve no doubt some of them will do it next year!