On 3 September 2023, when around 50 hardy Harriers were lining up at the start line for The Big Half, a small group of us opted for a more refreshing option, on what turned out to be a very warm September day. It was my first time taking part in the Hampstead Duathlon, along with other first timers, Susan Kennedy, Jojo Braine, Anastasia Chew, and Sarah Power, plus Leanna Mailer and Giles Deards who had both taken part previously.
The event starts at the Parliament Hill Lido. Competitors set off in waves (you self-declare on entry whether you are fast, medium or slow and they sort the waves accordingly) Jojo, Anastasia, Leanna, Sarah and I took part as a team (along with another non-Harrier) and Susan captained another team. Giles was in a team with friends from Kensal Tri. The swim began with an in-pool start. We all jumped in at the deep end and had 10 seconds to acclimatise before the hooter went. Off we set, swimming three lengths of the beautiful 60m pool, with its iconic metallic bottom shining beneath us. I was a bit dizzy as we scrambled out at the shallow end, but there was no time to waste. We pulled on our running shoes, soaking them in the process (Leanna had assured us there was no point taking towels to delicately dry our feet as everything would end up wet anyway). From there, we exited out the side of the Lido building and dashed up the hill to the Men's Pond, smiling and spraying water as we went.
There are limited opportunities for women to visit the Men's pond and vice versa, and this was my first experience entering the mysterious inner sanctum of the Men's pond. Unfortunately for me, the surroundings were taken in in a total blur as we hurriedly kicked off our shoes, put on the goggles and jumped in for a quick lap of the pond. I say "quick" but I'm not the fastest of swimmers, it was a slow plod around for me and with the Men's pond being the largest of the three, that lap went on forever! But finally the ladder was in sight, another scramble up and pull on of the wet shoes for a short dash up the hill to the nearby Ladies pond, one that I'm very familiar with.... However, the conditions we were met with were far from familiar. The lifeguards, who have a reputation for being pretty strern and serious, were all smiles as they boisterously welcomed us and cheered us on. The Ladies pond is considerably smaller than the Mens - and less space led to a few collisions, I was kicked and bumped into like never before, I felt like a proper triathlete! In no time at all, we were scrambling up the next ladder, wet shoes on and another run - the longest leg of the event, up, around and down to the Mixed pond, for the last swim of the event, hurrah! Jojo, Anastasia, Leanna and I had managed to stick together which was a miracle given that once you have your head down in those lovely murky ponds, you can't see a thing! To be fair, it was probably because they kindly waited for me.. Coach Braine was on hand to deliver some loud and enthusiastic "allez-allez-allez!" at the entrance to the Mixed pond which gave us all a huge boost. A quick lap of the mixed pond, then out we got for the final approach to the finish line, set up outside the Lido. We ran through the finishing shoot holding hands and wearing huge smiles, in a combined time of 56 minutes.
Impressively, 7 year old Gus Baird (Jamie's son) one of our newest Junior members, who many of you will recognise from Summer League, did all the running legs with Giles, waiting patiently for him to complete each of the swimming legs and then acting as his pacer, darting up the hills in front. Total champ.
I'd highly recommend this event, it was enormous amounts of fun. You don't need to be a strong or fast swimmer (I'm not), and breaststroke is a very viable option if you don't front crawl. Approximate distances are:
Lido swim 180m
Run to the Men's Pond 1.1km
Lap of the Men's Pond 340m
Run to the Ladies Pond 690m
Lap of the Ladies Pond 230m
Run to the Mixed Pond 2.2km
Lap of the Mixed Pond 180m
Run to the finish line near Lido 1.5km. Thanks to City of London (who manage the ponds and lido), the Hampstead Rugby Club and the Jubilee Hall Trust for the brilliant organisation. It's held annually... next year will be the 25th anniversary of this unique event. See you there?