Swim the Serpentine 2021

Andrew Smallwood completing Swim the Serpentine 2021

In 2020 I was supposed to complete Ride London and Swim the Serpentine to complete the London Classics. Obviously COVID-19 got in the way and unfortunately Ride London didn’t happen in 2021.

Luckily though, Swim the Serpentine was deemed safe enough to go ahead and so here was another milestone off my list and another step towards getting that lovely London Classics medal.


Now, I’m not the strongest of swimmers and due to COVID protocols, it was difficult to get enough training in. My local outdoor Lido at Tooting is a huge, 92m long pool, but you had to book 7-10 days in advance and it was only open for widths in order to maximise capacity.

I ended up doing most of my training in an indoor 25m pool at Streatham Leisure Centre. Not the best training for a 2 mile open water swim. Again, this was disrupted by having to plan every training session in advance so I hadn’t trained as much as I’d liked to.


The event organisers have a strict rule that if the temperature is lower than 15 degrees. I couldn’t take the risk so I bought a cheap wetsuit from Sports Direct just to make sure that I was fully prepped.

I was to find out later, that this was not my best idea.

The event

The event itself was superbly organised and luckily the weather was glorious. After about 10 minutes in the queue, we were descending into the depths of The Serpentine.

It was then that I suddenly felt very claustrophobic.

The temperature of the water, coupled with the compression of the wet suit and the glare of the sun in my goggles gave me a sudden sense of shock.

The route is basically two laps. Starting on the north side of the river, swimming about two thirds of the length, before the long back straight. I was struggling before I got to the first bend and took my goggles off to give me a sense of direction.

I decided very early on that this wasn’t a case of getting a time, it was just a case of completing it and trying to enjoy it. So I swam breaststroke. Very slowly. All the way.

About halfway through, I felt a burning sensation on my legs. Not sure what it was and with no way to stop, I carried on.

I completed the swim in 2 hours. Yep, 2 miles in 2 hours.





It had been so long since I touched dry land, I forgot how to walk when I left the lake. I staggered to the changing rooms and then realised what the burning sensation was.

The cheap wetsuit had rubbed on my legs and I had burns.

Burns from wetsuit
Burns from wetsuit

The burns got worse over the coming days and to really rub salt into the wound, I only had six days to recover before running the Hackney Half Marathon!

In all the madness and pain, I had to remind myself that I did complete the swim. I didn’t give up and I was two thirds to getting the London Classics. After running the marathon in 2019 and this event, I only had Ride London to go. Keeping the fingers crossed for 2022.

Swim the Serpentine 2021 medal
Swim the Serpentine 2021 medal

About Andrew Smallwood

Experienced digital strategist with a foundation in web development and analytics. Leads multi-disciplinary teams in content creation and digital marketing ensuring data is at the core of decision making.