Swimming Challenges
Category: Open Water and Triathlon

Swimming Challenges

Charles initially took adult swimming lessons with Turner Swim as the first of his swimming challenges which was to turn his weak head up breaststroke into front crawl. After 5 x one hour lessons, he had achieved just that and was already looking for his next challenge. Charles had watched his wife complete a triathlon the year before and had ambitions to complete a super sprint triathlon himself, involving a 400 metre swim. Charles was then coached by Turner Swim instructor Andrew on our Stroke Improver programme, and by putting in additional swims by himself he duly completed his first triathlon.

Year after year, Charles kept working with his coach Andrew to identify potential triathlon and swimming events as he is a goal orientated fitness seeker. By having events to work towards then the cold winter mornings of going for a swim before work or fitting in a swim at lunchtime became easier. Charles’ swimming stroke became more efficient, his times continued to improve and his swimming challenges were achieved.

Since Charles’ first triathlon, his triathlon distances have increased and have culminated in completing the Majorca 70.3 Ironman, involving a 1900 metre sea swim. Charles’ attention then switched back to pure swimming challenges. Last year Charles completed the 10k River Dart swim which was no mean feat given that when he joined Turner Swim he couldn’t swim front crawl!

In 2019, Charles’ main goal was to complete the 6.4km Bosporus cross-continental swim from Asia to Europe.

Charles tells us his story about swimming the Bosporus below:

Swimming the Bosporus by Charles

“Swimming the Bosporus is like nothing else I have ever done before; both scary and exhilarating at the same time. The basic thesis is simple, the Bosporus is a narrow channel that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, and by an accident of history it represents the dividing line between Asia and Europe. The  ancient city of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, sits mainly on the western or European side, and it grew rich and powerful from controlling the trade that flows through the straits.

The strait is about 3km wide at its widest and 700m at its narrowest, and cold water from the Crimea flows in a constant current out towards the Sea of Marmara and eventually to the Mediterranean. But it’s not that simple! The Sea of Marmara is itself fed by melt-waters from Thrace, and is tidal, and being shallower, it’s much warmer than the Black Sea flow. This means that there is a counter current of warm water flowing back up the Bosporus most of the time. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosporus [accessed 24 July 2019].

Swimming challenges with complex currents

Bosphorus Swim

Image 1: Bosporus swim Asia to Europe 

It’s this complexity of currents that makes the swim so interesting and difficult. The cold water flows roughly down the middle and bottom of the channel and the warm water flows roughly up the sides, and there is a lot of turbulence where they meet.  But water is, of course, fluid, and so the flows move around the channel based on a myriad of factors, wind, moon, tide and so forth. This means that every day the best route to swim is different, and you have to feel your way by the temperatures, and these can lead you astray.

None of this is on your mind when you are standing on the ferry about to jump in and start swimming, but it will start to dominate your thinking as you go down towards the finish.



An open water swimming event start with a difference

The mechanics of the race are quite simple, if scary. A couple of ferries take the 2,400 competitors up to the start at Kanalke on the Asian side, they dock, open the doors and you jump out into the water.

Image 2: Bosporus Swim starting photo

All of you one after the other, so the first thing you have to do is to swim like crazy to avoid being jumped on. The first few minutes are chaotic, with a constant wave of swimmers entering the water and setting off aiming at the western tower of the bridge in order to

catch the cold current down. I had my goggles pulled off my head twice by swimmers swimming over me, meaning I had to tread water while being constantly buffeted by swimmers trying to get them back on. Then, after a surprisingly long time, you get yourself under the bridge, and the shadow of the bridge is a clear visual marker of where you are.


Swimming from the Asian side of Istanbul across to the European side

Image 3: 2400 participants aiming to reach the finish line

At this point, you are meant to be aiming for some electricity pylons in the far distance, and for me it was still simpler just to follow the crowd of orange (swimmers over 45 years old) and red hats (swimmers under 45) in front of you, but the pack opens out dramatically from here on in. The straight is twisting to the west at this point, but the recommended route is to stay towards the east, where the current is meant to be strongest, so what I was sighting off was a huge Turkish flag flying over the town of Kandalli. At this point everything is feeling pretty good, which should be the alarm bell, as once you are past Kandalli you tend to stay over on the Asian side.

For me there was then a sudden realisation that my next way point, the small island on the European side., was far, far away on the other side of the Bosporus, and so I had to swim at what felt like right angles to the current, which at this point is flowing at over 4 km/hr pushing you downstream and away from the European side. This was the longest and hardest part of the swim, as you were constantly having to swim at a sharper and sharper angle to the current in an attempt to get to the island and the right side. I also felt very alone at this point, as the main pack was ahead of me, and the rest of the swimmers were spread thinly across several square kilometres of water, and you could only see the occasional bobbing orange hat. But, eventually I was within sight of the island , and much more reassuringly I could clearly see the big yellow balloons that were flying over the finish line. But this was a false dawn! Having swum hard, but essentially with the downstream current for about half an hour at this point, and having been swimming for over an hour, you are then plunged into turbulence, think of a Jacuzzi with cold and hot water, as you enter the counter current flowing north alongside the European bank. You suddenly realise that you are swimming straight towards the finish, and making very little headway, the balloons are receding, not getting closer. This is profoundly dispiriting! This is when the training came in, head down, solid slog. I think I spent 30 minutes doing the last 250 metres towards the pontoon, desperately trying not to get swept back into the centre, and then out to sea.


The final push to completing my swimming challenge

Image 4: Bosporus Swim Finish Line

In this photo, all the swimmers on the left are desperately swimming across the downstream current to try to make it to the finish pontoon  (with the yellow balloons) on the right. The swimmers on the far right are swimming against the upstream current, while the big mass of swimmers in the middle are striking a balance.

According to the website, 2,140 completed the course, and 170 failed which is a huge number of strong, qualified swimmers who just got their tactics wrong…you can see them on the left of this photo fighting an almost impossible battle!”

Feel inspired? Whether your challenge is overcoming water phobia, learning to swim, developing your front crawl or training for an open water swim; Turner Swim are here for you. Join us for our one-to-one adult swimming lessons. Book online and get started today!

Image Source 1: SwimTrek holidays postcard

Image Source 2: View Source [accessed 18 August 2019]

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