martes, 7 de noviembre de 2017

74th Baghirathi River Marathon Swim. Worlds Longest Open Water Competition. 81Km Ganga River, India. 27th August 2017

Written for Daily News of Open Water
India is an exotic destination to travel, but swimming in the Ganges means going beyond exotic to risking one´s health, in one of the most polluted rivers in the world, yet the most sacred of rivers.

Over the last few years, the races and the athletes of ultra distance have been proliferating, overcoming new challenges, going further and further, breaking records that nobody believed it was possible, achieving a certain recognition and being seen in the media. The world's current longest competitive open water race is held in India. It remains almost unknown sadly due to the fact that the international media power and coverage for open water is little, and that this competition happens in one of the poorest countries in the world have much to do with it.


The 74th edition of the World Longest National Open Water Swimming Competition Bhagirathi River 81Km, held in West Bengal between the villages of Jangipur and Berhampore, is a hugely celebrated event within that area. Although it is called Baghirati river is in Ganges River which is approximately 150KM farther north from Kolkata. A r ace with 74 years of history, in which the distance has not always been swum the same, and in which the international participation has been very limited, mainly, for reasons of accessibility and risk to health. For the locals, heroic swimming is 81Km, for outsiders like us, it is not only the distance but it is to be able to finish in perfect health as we are not accustomed to these waters as the locals are.


In 2016, a Spanish open water swimmer, Jose Luis Larrosa, after winning with a time of 10:57, he told himself that he would not return. However this year with the request of two friends who are also swimmers; Cesar Hernandez and Daniel Ponce, he decided to return. "This year I was not prepared at all, I knew what I was supposed to do, and my preparation was not adequate, but I had to go for them.


There is no website, there is hardly any information, few people speak English, conditions are hard for foreigners, we speaking of rural India. "I am fortunate to have a great friend Rike from Delhi, who also trained and prepared to swimming for his Ironman race, who has helped me these two years, and thanks to him we have been able to participate." "It was him who spoke with the Indian Swimming Federation requesting for authorization, then with the association that organizes the race, and on the ground is who accompanied us, reserved trains and hotels. Without him would not have been possible."

About the experience we have enough to write a book - the amount of events and curiosities about the place, its people, the race and just abundance of other things.
"The place where the race takes place strikes you from the first moment, you come with the idea of a competition, but here you do not compete for winning, just to survive and finish. Starting from the lack of preparation in all aspects to swim there, to the conditions in which the paddlers of the boats that accompany us have to face the three and a half days upstream to return to their homes just for a few rupees. I did not have any health problems during the race, indeed, since I swam a year back I did not fall sick at all. Within a few minutes of going into the Ganges River I realized that it was not going to be a normal competition. You feel the people around, and I speak about more than 200,000 people watching the race during the 81KM as for them it is their sacred river, I felt like I was not swimming in running water. Simultaneously a 19KM race is carried out, which starts once the first swimmer from the 81KM passes through the starting point of 19KM. Our goal was clear, to reach the finish lane. From the start Daniel and I swam together in fourth and fifth position for two hours, then everything changed. Daniel was tired and slowed down while I was able to continue and I advanced to the third position in the third hour, second in the fifth hour, and finally reached the first swimmer in the seventh hour to which from then on I led the race seamlessly. We had all kinds of climate changes during the 11-12 hours of the competition - sunny, cloudy, rained three times and one of them very heavy, wind against our direction which made the river look like a sea because of how chaotic it was. However, the constant was always the water which was very hot at around 32 degrees at all times.The feeding should be well studied and less than every 30 minutes, the salts must be drunk very frequently to avoid dehydration. Throughout the race the environment around us smelled of smoke, which usually corresponds to human cremation, from which the ashes and remains go to the river. Care must also be taken to avoid animal corpses, mostly cows and dogs. In fact I had the "luck" to hit a dead cow floating."


Within the experiences we lived, we could talk about the parade two days prior in the streets announcing the event, or the two presentations loaded with gifts the previous day, one in Berhampore and another in Jangipur. In addition to the massive trophy presentation, where gifts for all finalists are plentiful, as are the great trophies for the champions. "

Talking about results, 18 swimmers started the race. Jose Luis Larrosa finished in first position with a time of 11h07min. Second was also a Spanish, Daniel Ponce with 11h17min followed by the third who was a local swimmer with 11h26min. The other Spaniard, Cesar Hernandez finished fourth with 11h50min. Total finishers were 9 . The cut off time is based on daylight, so the maximum time is between 12.5 and 13 hours.


It is a great experience for any open water swimmer, and although we usually get vaccinated and take precautions, the water quality is not bad at all, does not smell, has no unpleasant taste, is only very muddy.

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