River Dart 10 km challenge.

Having undertaken a mind numbing 10Km swim at lake 32 earlier in the year, I decided any future distance swims needed to be sea or river, which led me to this event. Seemed a little pricy when booking until I read that all profits go to provide 1-1 swimming lessons for disabled kids!

The event had 500 swimmers on Saturday and another 500 Sunday, they were short of volunteers, so I went down early on Saturday to support sorting and distributing swimmer’s bags at the end, a simple task made difficult by 80% of people having black bags!

Weather was great, new finish area being a lovely National Trust farm courtyard, even though the change meant steep walk up from the river after a 60-metre-long pontoon exit!

Chris Pitt was doing the event Saturday and it was great to see his beaming smile and a good catch up when he had successfully finished his longest swim (to date!)

Everyone finishing seemed to have enjoyed the Saturday event and were all tucking into the ‘medal’ of a metal mug filled with hot chocolate.

Good tips passed on like swim in close to the feed station as the current is strong and easy to go right passed! The last swimmers came in having breaststroked and floated the whole way, so clearly an event for all speeds! Volunteer chores finished I headed to overnight stay in Totnes before my go the following day.

As the event start was high tide it was a very civilized Sunday morning with my wave briefing at 9:50 for a 10:10 start. A sunny 15 min stroll to the start area chatting to fellow swimmers along the way.

The event has slower swimmers off first so I was able to see a couple of waves head out before my turn. Event briefing warned that with the very high tide there was a benefit of a fast flow, but a lot of debris washed in from trees and the banks, follow the lifeguard instructions on where to swim was the clear message as they could see the best route, also it was pointed out for most of time if you did look ahead all you would see were trees so from water level it was hard to see the course! We were also warned that the wind was getting quite strong which would cause some swell in the last 3rd.

An easy entry down a slipway, loads of paddle boarders and surf lifeguards around, with more on jet ski’s and bigger boats if anyone needed help.

I was confident that my training meant the distance was going to be OK, so this was really for enjoyment, as well as to see how much faster I would go downhill than on the flat! With the advice of follow the hats in front who will be being guided on the best route, I just used my breathing to enjoy the scenery and limited any navigation effort.

There are no roads or footpaths along this stretch of the river, so the view was of sunny unspoilt hills, trees and wildlife. First feed station was at 3km and seemed to arrive very quickly, a cup of water and banana and off. From this point more sighting was needed as I was starting to get amongst the swimmers from slower waves. Second and last feed station was at 7km, reached and still feeling pretty good, I had the gel that had been up my sleeve with more water, then swam a while on my back as felt like the swim was going to be over to quickly and wanted to enjoy it! (Felt a bit Dory at this point!)

1 km later we turned to cross the estuary and the headwind hit! 1-foot white topped waves in the face for over a Km. My plan, head down, power through it as fast as possible! Shame few others shared my strategy! Carnage is the best was to describe it, some swimmers trying to tack their way across, with the obvious collisions from all directions, and others having to stop and rest, lifeguards being very vocal to push people back online! I must have said sorry more than 20 time to people I swam into that I couldn’t see!

Once at the far side of the estuary the water for the last few hundred metres calmed down a little, you could see the finish flags at the end of the pontoon from a long way out and with a strong current the helping hands soon had me out of the water. The hardest part seemed to be getting off the pontoon, with 50 plus people all waddling along, the float was a bit unstable, so it took a good 5 mins to get the finish timing mat! A slog up a steep hill to the finishers area was broken up with the mug medal of hot chocolate part way. If it had been colder I may have appreciated it more, but it was sunny 28oC ! No prizes for places and the relaxed challenge approach you could see along the swim loads of people stopped for leg stretches on the jet ski life ramps, and for a breather holding on to surfboards while enjoying the river views.

I had high expectations that this was going to be a great event and with the great weather it surpassed them! A quick calculation shows me 30% quicker (even with the backstroke leg!) than lake 32 10Km!

I asked Chris Pitt to have a read and add his perspective…..

As a much less experienced and proficient swimmer than Tim this was a more daunting challenge for me (longest swim prior to this 4.5k). But like Tim I enjoyed everything about it, can’t fault the organisation, safety, volunteers (especially bag handlers…!). 

This was quite a personal challenge for me also because I completed Ironman Tenby a year ago and have been struggling to find my mojo since. I definitely found some halfway down the Dart and it has inspired me to think about my next challenge! I guess I want to highlight that average swimmers like me can enjoy it too!!!

So anyone wanting to bag a marathon swim this is a very strong recommendation, really well organised, very friendly, loads of safety cover on the water, and knowing you are helping disabled kids get swimming lessons is a big bonus!