The 2018 edition of the British Swimming Championships has just concluded, with three Tad swimmers, Tom Carswell, Ellie Walker and Abby Parkinson, in action. There are a fair few flavours of “national” events in swimming, and this event is at the top of the pile, serving as the selection gala for the GB senior and junior teams for the European Championships, with pretty much every big name in British Swimming there – Adam Peaty sat only a few seats away from Tom and Danny and Rebecca Adlington was on commentary duty – as well as competitors from Spain, Germany and the Netherlands competing at the Edinburgh International Swim Meet.
Many parents and swimmers were relieved just to have got to Edinburgh after cancelled flights, trains and blocked roads and were competing/sharing stories of their adventures in the queues to get in or buy the obligatory merchandise!
Tom had qualified for 5 events – 50m and 100m for both free and fly and the 50m back and would be swimming on all 4 days. By some fluke Tom and Danny travelled to Edinburgh by train just before the snow closed the line and travelled back, as scheduled, just after the line re-opened. Ellie and Abby weren’t so lucky, but more on this later!
Tad action in the pool started on Thursday after a brisk snowy walk to the pool as no buses or taxis were running – Danny was really regretting wearing trainers by this point! There was no sign of Tom’s Nationals nerves as he mounted the blocks for his first race (they seemed to have transferred to his mum!) and Tom started as he meant to go on and opened his campaign with a big PB in the 100 free and then followed this up with a near-PB in the 50 back.
Tom was back in the pool on Friday contesting the 50 fly, swimming another big PB in his heat. A few confusing moments passed as we waited for the morning and afternoon heat results to be merged and find out whether he had qualified for the junior final (for those 18 and under) in the evening. Much excitement ensued when we realised he was fastest junior in the afternoon session and was in! A quick jacket potato to refuel and a second mortgage to buy the spectator tickets to watch and we returned to poolside. Tom managed not to be dazzled by the disco lights and spotlights or the fact he was swimming on BBC Sport and swam another fast race in which he equalled his new PB to finish 7th.
Tom continued his run of great swims over the next 2 days. On Saturday he was just off his PB in the 50 free and in his last race at the EISM, the 100 fly on Sunday, he swam another big PB.
But what of Ellie and Abby? As they were both racing only on Friday Plan A was to travel up together on Thursday afternoon via a relaxing train journey from York. Plan B (York-Newcastle-Carlisle-Glasgow-Edinburgh) was hastily put together as news that the East Coast line was blocked with snow emerged. Plan B got only as far as Newcastle as the lines to Carlisle and Glasgow were then also shut. On the advice that the trains would be running again by mid-morning the next day, Plan C – stay overnight in Newcastle and then head north – was hatched. Race day itself did not start well with the news that there would be no trains north of Newcastle that day. Plan D was then rolled out – train back to York and then drive.
The Highways Agency were advising to travel only if travel was absolutely essential but after a quick discussion with Ellie and Abby we concluded that this journey was much more important than absolutely essential so off we went, albeit slightly more in hope than expectation.
The SatNav estimated an arrival time of 1245pm at the pool in Edinburgh, after warmup for the afternoon session started but still a “comfortable” two hours before race time. Simples! And so it was up the A1 to Newcastle. There were very few people as detached from their sanity at this stage as we were, so the road was virtually deserted. We passed Newcastle circa 3 hours after having left it by train and then passed the half way point of the journey, which was celebrated with a rousing rendition of a certain Bon Jovi classic from the 80s. We were certainly “livin’ on a prayer” shortly after this, as we left the A1 and headed into the wilderness, through which a narrow ribbon of broadly snow-free tarmac snaked.
Other than a road-side “pit stop” after which Ellie took the opportunity to practice her racing dive by falling over in the snow, progress to Scotland was uneventful if a little slow. Around 50 miles from Edinburgh it looked like it was “Game Over”, as we encountered a Highways Agency truck and a “road closed” sign, the sight of which did not do my already elevated blood pressure any favours. Luckily, a further detour that was “passable with care” was available and so it proved, though it was a bit hairy at times. We joined the main road to Edinburgh, ticked off the miles to the outskirts of Edinburgh itself and were then within walking range of the pool. The “Beast from the East” had tried its best but failed to stop the “Mad from Tad”!
As luck would have it, Edinburgh had cleared all traffic from the road for us and we sailed into the pool car park 75 minutes before race time. In the excitement of actually getting there, Abby’s poolside shoes remained in the boot, so the strict implementation of the “no bare feet in marshalling” policy meant that Abby headed off to race wearing her bright blue Doc Marten boots! There are definite advantages to this “just in time” approach to galas as Andrea and I had barely sat down before Ellie and Abby came out to race.
There’s something ever so slightly odd about a 24 hour total journey time to somewhere far too close to the Arctic Circle to see two club-mates race each other in the same heat. Anyway, the race itself went well with both Ellie and Abby recording times very close to their PBs set the previous weekend. Ellie was just 3 tenths off a place in the junior final and Abby was 3rd fastest 14 yo on the day, a quite remarkable performance by both in the circumstances.