By Clinton

This was the second time I’ve done this event and I’ve got to say it’s truly special. If anyone is familiar with Hampstead Heath they’ll know there are multiple open water swimming venues within the park: the men’s pond, ladies pond and the mixed pond. There is also an unheated 60m lido.

What makes the Pondathon so unique is that you can swim in each of the ponds and the lido as part of the event. You also have to run between the ponds, and finally run down the final straight of the Parliament Hill Athletics Track, in total making up approximately 1km of swimming and 5km of running.

The Hampstead Heath parkrun team – Mo, Adam, Clinton, Richard and Jess

In the larger swim-run events competitors have to wear or carry their trainers with them through the swims, but because in the Pondathon you swim back to your starting position in each of the ponds, you instead do multiple transitions.

It’s definitely an “old school” style event. You have to pick up a paper entry form from Parliament Hill lido to enter. There are no paper numbers (your number is simply written on an arm and your timing chip just goes around the laces on your trainers), and there is a large emphasis placed on the team aspect!


Stage 1: Swim in the lido (180m)

I asked to set off in the fastest wave this year since the year before I was constantly passing people throughout. My first three laps of the lido were breathless and cold! Three lengths really wasn’t enough time to get warmed up and I was in about 5th position leaving the lido for the first run.

Stage 2: Run to the Men’s Pond (1.1km)

There was one lady ahead of me, who I couldn’t close down at all and one guy in bright yellow speedos who sped past up the hill.

Stage 3: Swim in the Men’s Pond (340m)

Onto the men’s pond, I dived in headfirst and instantly passed the guy in the yellow speedos who seemed to have misjudged his dive. This section is the longest swim and I did my best to settle into a rhythm. Sighting was pretty easy as you can simply follow the guide rope to the far corner before completing the circuit back to the jetty.

Stage 4: Run to the Ladies Pond (690m)

The 4th stage of the event consists of a run from the Men’s Pond to the Ladies Pond. There were a few others around me, including one wearing an ITU tri suit. This next run was the shortest, only just over half a km before diving into the Ladies Pond.

Stage 5: Swim in the Ladies Pond (230m)

The swim for this stage consists of a single lap of the pond, a distance of 230m. The Ladies Pond was warmer than the lido but still cold enough to be refreshing.

Stage 6: Run to the Mixed Pond (2.2km)

After exiting the ladies pond, I knew I had the longest and hardest run ahead of me: 2km including some elevation. Thankfully I still had that one person ahead of me to chase through the trees and as I came down the other side of the hill a marshal happily called out that I was in 3rd place.

Stage 7: Swim in the Mixed Pond (180m)

The swim for this stage is a single lap of the pond, a distance of approximately 180m. When I took off my shoes at the mixed pond I could see only two other pairs of shoes on the jetty! I could actualy see 1st and 2nd place but 1st had almost finished his swim and 2nd was gaining distance on me.

Stage 8: Run to Athletics Track (1.4km)

The final run is almost all downhill, down a straight track then along to the athletics track. I could see 2nd place a few hundred meters ahead of me, running fast down the hill. I somehow found some extra (or more stupid/lack of control) acceleration to overtake just at the bottom of the hill and then somehow stayed ahead to finish on the track in 2nd place!

I waited around at the finish line looking back as people finished and it wasn’t long before Jess came speeding down the hill as 6th woman. Fantastic debut for her!

Thank you to the fantastic Hampstead Heath parkrun crew for being such great teammates – special shout out to Mo, Richard, Dave, John and Adam for being great company as usual!

I was so happy to make such a big improvement on my previous time, and to come away with my first ever medal! Next year I’m going to have to come back to defend my silver and try to improve again. Hopefully I can organise a group of tritons to go for the group event as well!

– Clinton