Swimming 10km in the river Dart (UK)

The Dart 10k is an open water swim in the Dart river in South Devon (United Kingdom). It is usually hosted in the beginning of September and gathers more than a thousand of swimmers of all ages and abilities, who aim to reach the village of Dittisham starting from the town of Totnes.


As I walk towards the start line of my 10k swim in the river Dart on an early morning of September, I think about the dozen of messages of encouragement I woke up to that morning: from colleagues, triathletes, family and friends… If many people run a marathon, not so many have swam one, elevating those who would even consider signing up to the status of super humans. I look around but the only thing I see is a bench of weirdos in highly unsexy rubber one pieces, ready to dip in a muddy cold water on a Sunday afternoon while the smart ones of this world have not even finish their first cup of coffee (or tea).

1600 swimmers took part in the 2017 Dart 10k. Here: the start in Totnes

A different type of challenge

 Why even considering such an event? For the challenge of course but also for the connection with nature. Far from the controlled, confined, safe and chlorine cocoon of a swimming pool, you never know what to expect. Will it be just cold, or freezing? Will it be calm or choppy? You race with the ducks, avoid branches, take note of the clouds, the skies, the kayaks of the safety crews.


What I love about outdoor swimming is that every dip is a little adventure itself.


 My enthusiasm vanishes quickly as I stepped foot into the Dart and instantly lost feeling of my extremities – the cold was almost unbearable (probably around 14C at start).  How could all these people set off so quickly? I take my time to acclimatise with a few breast strokes. Breath deep, breath deep. This was bloody cold and I was hoping I will not have to quit due to hyperthermia.


It takes around 40 min – and way too much water swallowed as a stomach bug will prove later- before I ease in, the water becomes warmer and I regain my smile. How beautiful that is! As promised by experienced swimmers, the first feeding station appears relatively quickly, the current definitely helping us. All smiles, swimmers exchange a quick chat, delighted to share the fun to be here. I take time to enjoy it, stopping front crawl to take in the scenery and realizing that the Dart 10k wis more a swim trek than a race.


Halfway, the river widens and I suddenly get a salty taste in my mouth, we are clearly getting closer to the estuary. From kilometre 6, I start to feel quite tired. I can hear the voice of swimming coach Kristina “now you are tired, you don’t extend your stroke as much”. I try to fight it but indeed my arms start to struggle, but I remain calm and reach the second feeding station. It is down to the last stretch, the wind getting stronger and stronger and we were in for some serious chop!


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My first long distance swim

Somehow the distance and the challenge of swimming the Dart 10k has never overwhelmed me. I had this deep inner confidence than regardless, I will be able to do it. 10 kilometres is not a distance that should be undertake unprepared. It is supposed to be the equivalent of a marathon, and if many consider somebody in decent enough shape could wing a half marathon, getting on the start line of a marathon without proper training is definitely dangerous. I ate open water, dreamt open water, thought open water. Day, night, it becomes this underlining presence. But it was all worth it, as promised all the training made it not only doable and bearable but also enjoyable.


Finally, the finish line was in sights, coloured houses and dozen of people on the bunks that I can see from the distance. The final push! The water is choppy and I am battling. 100m to go, I kick my feet energetically, giving everything. I know this will also help blood flow and prepare to get back to a vertical position. I keep swimming until I have only half a meter of water under me, I get on my feet. It’s done! As I made it back to the beach, a big smile splashes my face – the exhilarating properties of the open water swim. Volunteers smile back, help us to walk out of the water and our supporters wave from under their umbrellas (it is British summer after all).

My joy at the finish line! © 2017 Vivienne Rickman-Poole

I am a swim marathon finisher! With a time of 2h47min, I finish in the middle of the pack for the Sunday swimmers, the fastest completing it in 1h39 and the most leisurely in 4h08. Only a few days later, I realized what an achievement this had been, feeling how exhausting my body was. And if you think swimming 10km in a wetsuit is an achievement, think about the “skins swimmers” who swam Totnes to Dittisham only in their swim costumes!
Special thanks to:
Outdoor Swimming Society and the volunteers for putting together such an awesome event. What made the Dart 10k stand out from other challenges I have done was definitely the conviviality and the lovely Devon countryside! I can recommend it to anyone considering an swim endurance event!
To Lisa Lloyd , experiences long distance swimmer for her tips!
Many thanks also to Vivienne Rickman-Pool who allowed me to use her beautiful pictures from the event. You can see all pictures here.

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