The 2 Mile Swim Challenge- The Concept

Posted on: 02 Mar 2019

Having completed the Surrey 100 mile bike ride in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it I entered for it again for 2018. Knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to take part due to cost and logistics as I was now living in Bulgaria the application went ahead anyway. In the back of my mind there was something saying, ‘you never know’. When I was accepted there was an option to put it off for the following year if competitors couldn’t compete for whatever reason. So that’s what I did and an offer to compete the 2019 ride came about.

With an email message from London Marathon Ltd telling me to pay £96 for the 2019 event by the 22nd March, I knew yet again the cost of flying with a bicycle and the cost of accommodation was well beyond our means especially as the event was in August, peak holiday time with traditional criminal hiked prices. Just the basics of me travelling alone to compete would be well over £500 and close to doubling if Galia my partner came with me.

Contained within the message was a section referring to competitors that complete three London Sporting Challenges are entitled to another medal and entered in the Hall of Fame. Having completed the London Marathon way back in 1982 and now Surrey 100 bike ride under my belt in 2016 it was two thirds of the way to this entitlement. This provoked the thought of perhaps going for it with the completion of a 2 mile swim in the open waters of the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park in September.

The excitement of taking up another sporting challenge when I will have arrived the age 61 years old was uncontained and seemingly quite feasible. On consulting Galia, she was quite okay on the idea if that’s what I wanted.

The excitement of taking up another sporting challenge when I will have arrived the age 61 years old was uncontained and seemingly quite feasible. On consulting Galia, she was quite okay on the idea if that’s what I wanted.

So, here I am with another sporting goal in front of me. On your marks, get set, go.....

In my own head there was this fixation that the event would be easier that the Marathon and Cycle Ride. Both these events went on for well over four and half hours enjoyable but certainly demanding. The swim should only last about 2 hours in view of my very bad, slow and laboured breast stroke swimming pace. With a bit of training for more stamina what’s the problem? So, it was a little wait for the time to enter which we were told was at beginning of February. 

February arrived and a window for application opened. This was applied for without hesitation only to find that my all bank cards were not being authorised when trying to pay online. Little did I know what problems were to follow.

After contacting my bank, they confirmed that all block had been taken away and it should now go through. This now was a few days later with the fear that places would have been filled for my 09:35 start. Payment still wasn’t being authorised despite the banks assurance. Time rolling on and frustration set in with the growing fear of missing out on a place now.

It was over the London Marathon helpline via email enquiring whether there was another method of payment with issues currently being experienced. The was no other way of paying, it had to be done online with the system in place and was told to make sure all numbers, names and dates are accurate; as if I wouldn’t have checked this anyway!

The event organisers suggested I get someone in the UK to pay. With this my son was asked to help and after transferring money to him to pay his card also wasn’t being authorised. He then asked my ex-wife to try with her card; the same result, not authorisation. By this time I was quite depressed with the total ridiculousness of the situation.

Feeding this back to the event helpline, the now suggested I ring them up and they will try my card from their end. I wasn’t happy with this at all with the cost of international phone calls extortionate on my mobile phone. The idea of my son in the UK ringing them up with my bank card details was suggested, that was to me not a good idea. The idea of giving out my bank credit card details to firstly my son then to another party to me was too risky and to be fair unreasonable to ask in the first place. The helpline were not allowed to make overseas calls either.

It was back to the bank again and nearly a week later after their investigations only to tell me everything was in order their end and there was nothing more they could do. I was now almost resigned to giving up with no other means of being able to pay.

It was at the point now that I had given up after two frustrating weeks of trying to pay the event fee and went to bed that evening very depressed and despondent and didn’t get much sleep with that.

After more thought I decided to take the bull by the horns and ring the event helpline knowing that giving them my bank details was risky but there was no other way to pay. I knew before I even made the call that it would not be authorised again as the payment process was exactly the same as before. I called up the UK London number only to be faced with an automated voice and menus you had to wait for. It was a full three minutes before I got cut off! In for a penny in for a pound I tried again; same problem as I was cut off again. Back to the helpline via email and another day’s wait for a reply which is what happens each time I contact them this way.

Another email reply, this time being told that the telephone system meant I had to wait for the menu at the end of the automated talk and then choose the swim option. It felt like I was taking a step back in the process with mounting costs each time. So it was back on the phone very nervous being aware of the time it would take not only to get through to the helpline but the time spent trying to go through the payment process once there; which I knew would fail anyway!

Finally got through to a person called Ellie who I had been communicating for over two weeks via email. We went through the process and guess what? It failed! There was further waiting and minutes mounting up for Ellie to consult the account who might have an answer. They decided that my bank would be used to take the fee of £54 on a manual payment system they had in the office. So my bank details were giving again with a promise of being shredded once payment had been made. I asked Ellie to confirm when this had been done as I didn’t want to hold on the phone any longer now the 15 minute mark had elapsed. She said she’s email later in the day confirming matters. The call cost around £10 felt very guilty and not happy at all that had to feel that way, but living here with a very modest budget causes concerns for us when these things happen. Knowing the entry fee of £54 was one thing we accept that, but unnecessary costs such as the phone calls are hard to come to terms with.

No email arrived later in the day, so even more worry overnight, and the fact they have open access my bank details. The next day it came and confirmed £54 was taken from my account, my bank details now shredded and included was a voucher code to use as I had apply online again and use it in the process. I had three days to do this in otherwise the voucher would expire. No chance of that as I applied straight away with some hanging disbelief that gaining entry this event was finally going to happen. Not only did I gain entry, but the 09:35 start I wanted was also accepted. It was now a new set of nerves taking over from the extended frustration to now the thought of completing the challenge and event in September.

With an entry now in I emailed Ellie to thank her for her support and promised to try and get to see her at the event to thank her again personally. She confirmed she’d be there but didn’t know in what capacity and hoped I would enjoy the occasion.

So, a 2 mile swim in open water and the challenge now open it just remains to find some water to practice in….

Once the concept of a long distance swimming event was on the cards I did investigate where there were swimming pools and found that there was only one outdoor pool on a holiday complex in a village some 15 kilometres from Yambol. Other than driving for an hour to Hotels on the coast and in big cities there were no other venues to practice swimming other than local open water reservoirs. These would be far too cold until June, but may be useful for open water swimming nearer the time.

There is always the seam during large spring and early summer, but it would be sporadic visits maybe once a week each month, but it could still be built into the training process later on. The problem was where to swim from February until then.   

Before I even conceived the idea of swimming 2 miles I knew there was a 20 metre swimming pool in Yambol but never used it as I thought it was for students. Not knowing this it wasn’t part of the equation of putting it as a place to swim for me. However, Galia has a cousin I sometime go out cycling with. Telling him about the idea of a long swim in open water in London and asking whether he’d be interested it was then I found out he is a more than useful swimmer.  He suggested we should use the Yambol swimming pool together sometime, but couldn’t commit to going to London for the event. It was then that it dawned that it was open to the public not just students. The pool is on a high school complex which is why I thought that originally. This of course opened the door fully to having a place to train on my doorstep. How lucky was that?

It was now Friday 22nd February and a trip to the school to make enquiries about using the pool which was not an enigma anymore. Open from Monday to Friday with 10:00 starts through to 16:00 with an hour break for lunch. Of course you have to pay, namely, 1.50 lev for students and 3 lev for the public for a one hour session. There were adequate changing rooms, showers and toilets, a lifeguard on duty full time and lots of swimming aids such as floats, flipper and hand paddles etc. Most public pools are 25 metres in length, although given the benefit of having a pool only ten a minute walk from our apartment would be spoiling me rotten. Another added bonus was the water temperature being a very comfortable 27 Degrees Centigrade.

Swimming caps were compulsory in the pool so it was off a shops to find one, also looking for a pair of goggles to accompany to avoid red eyes after each planned session. We found a cap for 3 lev with the Bulgarian flag and name on and a pair of cheap swimming goggles that came with ear plugs and nose clamp. Total cost of these items was only 5 lev although I have my doubt on how efficient they would be being rock bottom in price and quality. We’ll see.

I decided to start training the following Monday 25th February and the intervening weekend it was researching swimming tips on technique and preparation for open water swims. It was at this time I realised that the challenge was not going to be as easy as I envisaged. The event in not a race, with this my mind was set on just taking it very slow and easy even if it takes all morning.

There is a mandatory requirement of a tow float with the swim and possibly a wet suit if the water temperature is below 15 C. The tow float would be something to use as a resting tool and another additional cost in the waiting. There are cheap Chinese made tow floats knocking around on Ebay for around a fiver, but with the reviews there are safety issues involved here with the quality of make. More durable makes are around £20-25. All adding up on the original forecast of the cost of the event.  A wetsuit is an even bigger issue for me from the point of cost. I can’t afford to buy one and just to hire one for the day is around £40! So if it becomes compulsory and we would know a couple of weeks before the event this would be something of a problem. This issue would have to be worked out later in the year, early days.

Flight to London from Bulgaria in September were sourced and found. Sofia to Stansted was in fact the only viable option with Ryanair. Not a fan of that airline at all, but no choice in the matter with very limited funds and costing £85 return. Arriving in the UK c. 14:00 on the 20th September, one night in London, event on the 21st and leaving the UK 06:30 on Sunday 22nd. There will be no sleep at all that night to save on another night in London it will be a kip on a bench at Marble Arch until late then pottering about in Stansted Airport for 5-6 hours in the early hours of the morning. Transfers by coach from Stansted to London was £17 return and a hotel room only 2 kilometres from Hyde Park costing £35. There were hostel options but I couldn’t face sharing a bathroom with anyone, one luxury I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice. The fare from Yambol to Sofia return another 50 lev.

The total cost without a wetsuit is around £250. Spread over six months is affordable albeit an ongoing 9 lev each week for three visits to the pool for training with a nominal saving on not having to shower at home. Yes we think that way all the time and have to if you have read past writings of life in Bulgaria. We decided right from the start that I will travel alone, purely down to the cost and the amount of waiting involved for Galia over the two days. And as she says, there are no second hand clothing shops in Central London for her to shop in.

All set up and ready to start training now and very excited at the prospect. No issues being on my own, in fact less stressful worrying about Galia whilst I’m in the water.

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