A couple of weeks ago I went open water swimming for the first time, which was no small deal! I had to face multiple fears at once (namely swimming, reeds, cold water, sludge and creatures), but came away completely invigorated. You can read about the first time here. Exercise has taught me time and time again that I can exceed the boundaries I’ve placed on myself – and smashing another one (I will never do an open water swim) was simply brilliant.
But I was really sad to only discover it right at the end of the season. I have been three times now, and swum up to a distance of 1,200m with sections of about 150m in continuous front crawl. Given that I’ve only ever swum 1,500 in the pool I’m pretty chuffed. However, going in on your own terms, at your own speed, is a totally different thing to an actual event. I’ve decided my goal of 2020 is to do an open water triathlon, and also a longer pure swim event (hit me up with any suggestions).
So I wanted to finish the season with something that would give me a taster. I found a Go Tri event nearby at Colwick Country Park which was perfect: 200m swim with a 1 mile run. Although it sounds like a tiny swim, that distance was enough to challenge myself to tackle it like a race and swim the whole thing continuously in front crawl. The only problem was it was in the middle of my week of nightshifts.
Yesterday I carefully packed my kit and prayed to the nightshift God’s that the animals of Nottingham would stay well just for one night. Thankfully, my prayers were answered, and we didn’t have any surgeries or complicated emergencies to deal with. So, after a 3 hour nap this morning I got up, put on my pretty Flare Clothing tri-suit once again and headed off.
It was a small, friendly event and there was only one other girl doing the mini aquathlon, with the rest doing the longer 400m lap. It was warm enough in the water to go in wearing just our tri-suits, but I find my wet suit makes me much more confident about touching reeds so I decided to swim in it anyway.
We set off together, and for the first time I went straight in with my head under – it doesn’t help your time if you spend five minutes screaming and splashing yourself with tiny amounts of water. I felt much more professional, until I surfaced with a reed across my face. This made me panic completely and I ended up pulling my nose clip off as well as the reed. I only learnt to put my face in the water a few years ago, and the nose clip helped with that massively, so this was a bit of a disaster.
I carried straight on but didn’t feel confident to put my face in the water. As a result, I did a combination of front crawl and doggy paddle the entire way round! Fitting for a vet. I was a bit sad, because I’d been hoping to really try get into a good rhythm as my swimming has been improving massively each time. But this is one of the reasons it is so good to do practice events – whatever happens, you have to keep going.
I was grateful not to encounter any lake creatures (that I was aware of!) or any angry swans, which would be about my worst nightmare.
I tottered out of the water on a slippy metal pontoon and headed to the transition. I’ve been working on this with the RG:Active team at my local lake at Holme Pierrepont. It had been taking me an average of 20 minutes to get out of my wetsuit, which in a short event like this would have been significantly greater than the swim and run times put together! I had a game plan: hat and goggles straight off whilst in the water, start unzipping while running – remember to take Garmin off – then both arms, peel down to knees and step on a leg at a time to pull off.
This did involve some falling on to the floor, and taking a few square metres up (this was fine as the other girl in my section was long gone – so I had transition to myself!), but I was really pleased with how fast it went. I stood on my towel while I was doing this to help my feet dry, then socks and trainers. I got some fancy elastic laces to help me get my trainers on faster. Garmin on. Sunglasses on. Go!
I was really chuffed my transition time was 1:48 – definitely a big improvement in wetsuit exiting!
I found heading into the run that I was really, really breathless already. I think swimming with your head out like a dog is probably quite a bit more effort than proper front crawl, and the adrenaline of a race transition is totally different to practicing. I found it harder than when I’d practiced running after my last open water swim, even though I’d done 750m in that. But it is always so different in a race situation.
Because it was such a short run I tried my best to keep my pace up, so I never really got my breathing back. I was doing ok until about 2/3rds of the way round when I got chased by a loose bulldog. I decided to stop so as not to look quite so exciting, but it took a bit of time for his owners to come and retrieve him. So that was a little unfortunate. Maybe I should have carried on running – I might have got a PB trying to get away!
I rounded the corner of the finish, put in a little sprint. And ran straight past the finish flags. So I did a little lap of honour and then ran backwards so I could finish between the flags.
I was delighted to finish in second place. Hopefully you’ve forgotten this was out of two! But if you ignore losing the nose clip, swimming like a dog, getting chased by an actual dog, and missing the finish line, I’d say it was a success!
My total time was 15 minutes. It is crazy how tiring it is being completely focused and on the go even thought it was such a short amount of time. I was hoping there were going to be more swimmers, as I’ve never swum in a group before. I’m not sure if it will give me a confidence, or if I’ll panic. I will have to get some more friends to come with me next time I go so they can splash and kick me, like in a real triathlon!
Although it was only a little race, and it didn’t exactly go to plan, it still feels like a huge achievement. I only did my first open water swim a month ago, and now I’ve done my first real event. I hope I’ll be brave enough to keep going to the lake over the winter; as freezing as it sounds, I imagine it must be really invigorating. But putting it all together in a practice race has given me plenty to think about and work on. Starting with practicing what to do if I lose my nose clip! It is brilliant that there are initiatives like Go Tri to help beginners like me get into triathlon. It really isn’t as scary as it seems – if I can muddle my way round, you definitely can too.
Back to bed for a quick nap before work again this evening. I’m expecting the nightshift God’s to do their worst after being so kind last night!
The ladies at Flare Clothing have been a huge support in getting me going with my open water swimming, and triathlon. It is a company ran by women, for women, and I love the ethos behind them. Confidence is a huge part in getting women into sport, and having gorgeous kit designed specifically for us can really help. Check them out at flareclothingco.com and if you fancy treating yourself, they’ve kindly given me a discount code to share with you guys 10THISVETRUNS