Hilary named Countess of Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo Challenge – 5km ocean swim with flippers – Marseille – June 24th 2017

Race reporter Hilary

When I first heard about the Monte Cristo Challenge, way back last year, I knew that it was a race I *had* to do. The Count of Monte Cristo was one of my favourite books when I was a child, and 5km in the Mediterranean sounded like a suitable challenge for someone who likes swimming.

Unfortunately for me, registration sold out within a couple of hours last year so I had to wait an entire year before I could do it. This year I had an equally challenging time registering for the race I wanted, and while I did manage to sign up, it was for the 5km avec palmes (with fins) on the Saturday. While Edmond Dantes might not have approved, in the end this was fine for me, as it made the aspect of swimming a long distance in the sea slightly less daunting.

Tip 1) If you want to do this race, make sure that you are ready and waiting to register on the very dot that it opens up for registration.

Most of the other Expatriés (Roberto, Aurelie, Cesar, Sudeep, & Thibault) were swimming the 5km without palmes on Sunday, but luckily I had Louise to keep me company on Saturday. We had picked up our dossards on Friday afternoon (note for Sunday swimmers: they have a limited number of chips so won’t let you pick up your dossard until Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning) & so we arrived to the tents only about a half an hour before the briefing time, which was plenty of time for dropping off our backpacks (no line) and going to the washroom (huge line).


For the 5km swim you are taken out on a boat to the l’Ile d’If and have to swim back. During the briefing (held onshore) we were told to spot for buoys to get an idea of where you should be headed. This was somewhat difficult to do, as the buoys are not huge, and even in calm weather (as it was on Saturday) they were easy to miss.

Maybe it was pre-race nerves, but boat ride out to the island even had me feeling slightly seasick & Louise was convinced that her seasickness medicine wasn’t working. We quickly drunk all our water and had to spend rather a long time waiting on the island feeling thirsty and increasingly impatient to start. We ended up having to wait rather a long time as there was a delay in bringing everyone onto the island (about 4 boat trips were required to get us all there), which gave me lots of time to people-watch, but also lots of time think about: feeling thirsty, feeling seasick, feeling sleepy, having to pee, & how all of the Vaseline I had put on my neck to avoid chafing was probably all rubbed in and now useless. Luckily everyone was very nice and we got to talking to some people next to us who gave us some of their water.

Tip 2) Consider seasickness tablets for the boat ride and/or wavy sea

Tip 3) Bring a big bottle of water with you on the boat to the island & consider bringing a half empty tube of Vaseline/anti-chafing cream that you don’t mind leaving

Finally, without much warning, people started putting their flippers on and jumping into the water. The departure was a few metres off the island, marked by two kayaks. I felt like I just barely had enough time to get into the water before the horn blew for the start. Louise & I said a quick « good luck » to each other, and I tried to keep up with her for a few metres, but quickly lost her in the crowd. The first 150 m or so I swam almost entirely with my head up, as we were all basically swimming on top of each other and I didn’t fancy getting a flipper in my face (my nose only just having recovered from a nice kick in Salagou). Once it spread out, I could finally appreciate my surroundings. The water was warm (almost too warm for a wetsuit), perfectly clear, and a beautiful shade of bright blue. With the sun and the clear blue skies, it was spectacular. The only danger of such a beautiful setting was being too taken with the surroundings to pay attention where I was going, and at one point I had to double back a bit so as not to miss a buoy.

Tip 4) Sighting is difficult. They need bigger buoys

All in all I had a pleasantly uneventful swim. Having done the Paris à la Nage the week before, I knew that I was physically capable of swimming 5km in open water, and so I focused on relaxing and trying to enjoy the view as much as possible. The waves did make sighting quite difficult however (have I mentioned that they need bigger buoys already?), even on a calm day like ours.

Like Paris à la Nage, the race felt long during the middle but when I saw the final buoy I found myself thinking « oh, already? » As beautiful as the water was, I was quite pleased to have finished by the end of the race, as I hadn’t thought to put Vaseline on my wrist (you had to wear the chip on your wrist and not on your ankle like in a triathlon) and the chafing was starting to get a bit painful. It was also pretty difficult not to accidentally swallow some seawater here and there, and my mouth was feeling pretty gross. I sped up for the final couple hundred meters to the finish line, and was very happy to see Louise and César but most importantly the bottle of fresh water that I was handed so that I could wash out some of the salt water in my mouth/face!

Tip 5) Don’t forget to put cream/vaseline on the spots where your chip is going to be

Tip 6) Be absolutely certain that your goggles don’t leak – I discovered that mine did quite a bit and they were quite swollen by the end

I finished with a respectable 1h30, and Louise with a fantastic 1h20. Despite the discomfort of swimming in salt water, I did enjoy it overall and am looking forward to giving it another go next year – sans palmes this time!