Marathon Swims

I’m writing this blog on my phone on the train back from London, so it probably won’t represent my finest work, but it’ll at least kill 10 or 15 minutes of the journey.

As mentioned in the last blog, I took part in the inaugural Marathon Swims 5km event at the Olympic Aquatics Centre today.
Here’s my three word review if you’re not inclined to read any further: Tougher than expected.

Still with me? Allow me to expand.

I came into this thing aiming for a time of 1.45 to 2 hours. Where I’d plucked this target from, given that I don’t ever count or time my lengths, I have no idea, but it sounded good so I went with it.

Beyond this, though, I knew that all I really needed to do was come in under 2.30, as going beyond this would mean not getting a time, and missing out on the all important medal.

I arrived in the capital yesterday afternoon for a tune-up in the pool of champions, deciding to swim 1km in order to multiply my time by five to produce an actual educated estimate as to my finish time.

The result was alarming to say the least.

I touched in 29 minutes. Multiply that by five, add in transition time, factor in fatigue… you do the maths.

Fanciful thoughts of a 1.45 finish now consigned to the scrapheap, I adjusted my ambition to simply get around and earn that medal.

And so, to race time this morning, and the excitement of event day at the Olympic pool. Having pledged to put aside any concerns arising from yesterday’s alarming final warm-up, I focused on simply enjoying the occasion.

The event was brilliantly organised, and really offered that grand sense of occasion I was looking for. The PA announcer chappy (whose voice I definitely recognised, but was unable to put a name to) announced each swimmer idividually, until finally it was my turn.

“From Birmingham, dressed all in green today, please welcome TOM PARKER!”

*SPLOSH*. In I went.

It wasn’t until I was on about length four of one hundred that I realised, amid all the anticipation, I’d forgotten to look at the clock as I began, so had no idea how I was doing for time… and I was very glad of this indeed. I figured I’d do better to get my head down, relax and enjoy it, rather than stress about timings.

So I plodded on. Each 50m length sapped a bit more energy, and it was bloody tough going. But I was in control, and that’s all that mattered.

Before I knew it, the first kilometre was done. The second seemed longer but still reasonably comfortable. Then came the halfway point, where the tiredness really seemed to set in, but the psychological effect of knowing I was over the hump spurred me on.

Taking time out for some water and an energy gel before the final kilometre, I was actually feeling reasonably good. In so much as I hadn’t yet passed away.

Then everything started to go wrong. First my foot began to cramp up. The 4.5km mark saw a quick, sharp, painful pull on my right hamstring, followed almost immediately afterwards by a similar sensation in my left calf.

Swimming now almost exclusively with my arms, predictably my biceps started to tighten uncomfortably.

Take it from me, attempting to swim with both arms and both legs refusing to function is not fun.

But I needed to get through the final ten lengths, so I got my head down and plowed on, driven by thoughts of family, the charities I’m supporting, and by promising myself a pizza and some beer tonight.

And so, finally, I made it across the finish line, where my medal was quickly hung around my neck. They didn’t seem to check my time at all, meaning that my fears of being denied one seemed fairly redundant.

As for my finishing time, a few backwards calculations lead me to believe it was around 2.20… but I’m not concerned about that.

This was, undoubtedly, the most intense physical challenge I’ve ever put myself through. A bit of a grandiose claim in comparison to feats achieved by others, but they may not have spent the vast majority of their adult lives eating too much and moving too little to the extent I did!

I’m massively proud of my accomplishment, and hope to return next year, when maybe I’ll have progressed enough to go for that 1.45 target? Or perhaps not!

One last thing – I put myself through this in order to raise funds for two great charities in the shape of LoveBrum and VICTA. Any donations at would be hugely appreciated.

You know they would. They really would.

Thank you.


Changing Lanes

I started this blog back in August 2016 with the intention of chronicling my progress before reaching the denouement of the tale – a dip in my personal mecca, the London Olympic pool.

It says much about my commitment to this project that it’s a full nine months since I achieved that ambition and it’s only now that I’m relaying the experience here.

So, why the delay? Primarily laziness, if I’m entirely honest. But I think, at the heart of it, is the fact that the experience didn’t quite match up to my rather lofty expectations.

A walk around the Olympic Park these days is a strange experience for anybody who was present during those heady few weeks five years ago. The stadium’s still there, the Mittal Orbit sculpture still dominates the skyline, and it undoubtedly remains an impressive destination for any fan of sport.

16830968_10158197417775133_6876968525418393065_n (1)
Sporting a fake London 2012 medal at the Olympic Pool. Because I’m that kind of twat.

Something’s missing, though. The colour, the excitement and the throngs of enthralled spectators have given way to the mundanity of everyday life. Not that I really expected it to be a hive of activity on a Monday afternoon in February, mind, but it was still a difference that affected me more than it probably should have.

It was the Aquatics Centre where my own ‘perceptions versus reality’ dilemma came to the fore. In the same lanes where the likes of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky had dominated just a few years earlier, I instead found Joe Public doing head-above-water breaststroke.

Again, I’m really not sure what I expected. It’s legitimately ridiculous.

While the pool’s underwater windows through which television cameras once peered offered a reminder of its illustrious past, it became all too painfully obvious that this was no longer one of the great arenas of world sport.

Getting a bollocking from a lifeguard for attempting a poolside selfie finally hammered home the point that this place wouldn’t offer me an authentic experience of what elite-level swimming is like. At least not yet. But we’ll get to that later.

Little did I know it, but my Olympic swim was followed immediately by an enforced swimming hiatus. A new job brought me a promotion and a pay rise, but also a longer commute – and it soon became apparent that the increased journey time meant my 7am morning swims would have to be knocked on the head.

I tried manfully to keep going with the odd evening swim. I even did the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere in May – my first open water swim, where I was proud to cover the mile-long circuit in 45 minutes.

19029400_10158749960610133_721698482373590749_nObligatory unflattering wetsuit shot after The Great North Swim.

Ultimately, though, as time wore on, my regular swimming became irregular, my progression turned to regression, and I grew more and more demoralised until I just stopped completely.

The weight I’d lost began to come back, the old lethargy returned, and my reinvention as a swimmer fell to pieces.

And then came a lucky break.

September saw the closure of Erdington Baths, my local swimming destination. And while I was sad to see the back of the slightly grotty pool I’d become so weirdly fond of, I was happy to welcome the state-of-the-art new leisure centre that came in its place.

Particularly given that its 6.30am opening time heralded my long-awaited return to the water.

A few months of relative inactivity meant that I apprehensively got started again in the slow lane. Within a couple of weeks I progressed to medium. After a month, I was living life in the fast lane once more.

I’d well and truly been re-bitten by the bug, and suddenly I found myself looking for the next big challenge, for a target to aim for.

And then I found out about Marathon Swims, a new concept with 1k, 5k and 10k pool-based challenges.

The venue? The London Aquatics Centre.

Within seconds, I’d paid my money and signed up to the 5k event.

And so it is I’ll return to the Pool of Champions this weekend, where I hope the scale of the challenge, the camaraderie of my fellow participants, the roar of the spectators in the stands, and – importantly – the chance of a medal at the end of it will provide the sense of excitement and competition that was sadly lacking on my last visit.

So, there we are – the blog is finally up to date. And, seeing as you’ve made it this far, I might as well get my begging bowl out.

I’m using this swim to raise a bit of moolah for a couple of great causes, and you can find my sponsorship page here.

I’ve set myself a slightly ambitions target of £500 – or, in other terms, £100 per kilometre, and a fiver per length.

50% of the money I raise will go LoveBrum, a charity I’m incredibly proud to be an ambassador for. It provides funding to small charities and good causes across my home town, helping to make a real difference to communities.

I’ll also be raising money for VICTA, a charity for children and young people who are blind and partially sighted. My wife, Anna, is a teacher specialising in children with visual impairment, and I’m proud to be doing something for a cause that’s very close to our hearts.

If you can donate whatever you can afford, it will be hugely appreciated.

You know it will. It really will.

Thank you.