As a triathlete, at most events I’m given the same things on registration. Swim hat, timing chip, race numbers and – if I’m lucky – a set of temporary arm tattoos that will stick like glue and give me bragging rights for days. Tonight though, things are a little different. There’s a swim hat and number written on my hand, but alongside it come a thermos flask, a piece of string and a glowstick…
I’m at Vobster Quay, the popular diving and swim centre near Frome for their annual Glow Swim, organised under their popular Tribal Triathlon events banner. I’m a regular swimmer at Vobster so know the 750m lap course well, but this evening things are a little different – the usual pink TYR buoys are softly glowing and swimmers are sporting a compulsary glowstick tucked into the back of their goggle straps. Not only that, but it’s dark….
The Glow Swim is described not as a race but an ‘experience’, however we still get a swim start – courtesy of a firework shot into the sky – and then we’re off. There’s a hushed reverence to the start unlike any event I’ve been to before. There’s electricity in the air and a sense of anticipation, but no-one’s jostling for position and as the swim starts everyone is gently doggy paddling or doing breaststroke, popping their heads up to take in the sight of 150 little glowbugs making their way to the first buoy.
There are a range of distances available and I’ve signed up to do four laps – 3km – on the basis that it’s not often you get the chance to experience such unique swim conditions, so why wouldn’t you? Swimming in the dark is a strange experience. A bit like running in the dark, your senses are heightened and you feel strangely alive and alert to all the sounds and sensations around you.
As the swim goes on though and the swimmers become more spread out, I find myself entering a weirdly dream-like state. Being in the water by moonlight is magical but surreal, you can hear the sound of your breathing and the water splashing around you, but it’s a still night and as most of each lap takes you around the perimeter of the quarry, it’s strangely quiet and you can see moonlit trees and rocks with each breath. I love being in water and always find it comforting, but in the dark it feels even more like I’m suspended from reality, a world away from the pressures of everyday life.
Time seems to shift in the dark as well. At some points it feels like I’m swimming much faster than usual, at others like I’m hardly moving at all. The only breaks to my swim are at a couple of occasions where I’m bumped by another swimmer and we stop for a few words about how amazing the experience is – or at the end of the third lap, when I tread water for a while and take in the sight of my last few fellow swimmers embarking on their final lap while the afterparty gets started on the quarry side.
After finishing the 3km I find I’m almost the last swimmer to exit the water and I’m gently shepherded in by the fantastic team of kayakers who have been keeping a careful watch on us all. I’m counted in by Richard, one of the organisers, and sent off for a hot shower and some soup (that’s what the thermos at registration was for!). There’s a barbecue, music playing and everyone’s sitting by a little camp fire talking about what an amazing experience they’ve enjoyed.
I can honestly say the Glow Swim experience will stay with me for a long time and if you get to try one, I’d absolutely recommend it. You’ll see swimming and open water in a whole, magical, new way.