With Boxing Day and New Year dips on the radar, it’s time to explore the wonderful world of open water swimming.
I seem to be a fairly rare beast among triathletes because I love swimming. For me it is one of life’s little pleasures when you first get in the water and feel the power of the push off from the pool wall and start to swim.
I mentioned in my last post that I had a back injury in my mid-twenties. I tore a muscle while shifting furniture during one of our house moves. So I had to work my way back to fitness and swimming was part of that. We lived near a swimming pool so I used to head down there 3 times a week and eventually built up to swimming a mile (64 lengths) in around 30 minutes.
I never had any swimming lessons as a child apart from the few lessons at school but I seemed to take to it like a, er, fish to water. I remember, though, that going swimming was my favourite thing to do and I used to pester my sisters to take me and then when I was old enough to go on my own, pester my friends to come with me!
As we all do these days, I took to the internet to research how I could best prepare for my first open water swim as part of Wirral Tri. One of the first companies to appear on my search was called Head to the Hills (now called Swim the Lakes) who organised a half day event training aimed at triathletes and those taking part in open water races. They also offered to do a wetsuit fitting if I signed up to the course. As it was in Ambleside and my sister has a caravan there, my fate was sealed and they soon had my credit card details.
The course itself was excellent and Pete and Andrea’s enthusiasm for their sport was infectious. I was keen to get out to Lake Windermere for the practical part of the course. However, I was in for a nasty shock just as to how cold it was! Although it was mid-May, the air temperature was about 14 degrees and the water temperature was later judged to be about 12 degrees. I later found out that the triathlon rule book states that wetsuits are compulsory when the water temperature is less than 14 degrees and that open water swimming should not take place if it is 11 degrees or less. So far, so cold!
I was fine wading in and even getting the water up to my neck. The problem started when I tried to put my face in the water and found that it was just too cold. All the other swimmers on the course seemed to be fine while I was at the back, hyperventilating, all confidence gone and wondering where my swimming mojo had gone. When I finally got out of the water, I was absolutely freezing. I couldn’t move my hands and that meant I couldn’t open my camper van. I had to put the key fob in my mouth and press the button with my teeth.
It was safe to say that I was now in shock and was seriously wondering how I was going to do this triathlon. I had already set up the Just Giving page; I couldn’t back out now. The only way to do this was to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. So I did some more research and discovered that Mersey Tri did open water sessions at the Marine Lake in West Kirby, near my home. With a deep breath, I joined and turned up to the sessions. By now it was June and the water was marginally warmer. The first session was still scary and I had salt water to contend with but I emerged thinking that it was going to be OK. I reached a point that I was actually enjoying the open water and genuinely looked forward to getting up at 6am on a Saturday for the 7am swimming sessions, I kid you not!
I also entered a stand alone open water swim in Liverpool docks which took place about 3 weeks before the triathlon. I thought that it would be a good idea to get some experience of open water racing without the complications of transitions, bike and run. It turned out to be a great boost to my confidence, not least because I swam through a load of jellyfish without freaking out!
My top tips will follow in another post but here’s my first tip, it is perfectly natural to freak out in cold water!