Tag Archives: open water swimming

Photo of AM at canoe club

Making history in the world’s first woman only quadrathlon

Planning

Last December, while planning my 2017 race calendar, I came across the Deva Divas Quadrathlon. This was a new addition to the famous Deva Divas triathlon run by Chester Tri Club. When I hit the enter button, I have no doubt it was one of those windy and rainy days where you are grateful to be tucked up inside and you are dreaming of the gloriously long summer days where running and multi-sport glory is yours for the taking.

Photo of the River Dee

Tranquil view from the steps of Chester Canoe Club

You might remember that Adventurous Dad is a keen canoeist, having built his own sea kayak, so I maintain that it is mainly his fault that that I signed up for this. I cannot deny I was intrigued at making history with the world’s first woman only quadrathlon. I really wasn’t sure about my canoe skills having struggled with the beginner’s pool course. So thankfully the wonderful Jean Ashley arranged a temporary membership of Chester Canoe Club for all quadrathletes with coached sessions on Saturday mornings (we were also able to go to the club nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays) for the three months leading up to the race.

Training

Photo of AM at canoe club

All gear, no idea!

A group of very warm and friendly ladies turned up for the first session on 22 April, which was a gloriously sunny day. For me it really was the case of “all gear and no idea” because Adventurous Husband lent me his kit so I really looked the part  in his canoeing top and buoyancy aid. I even managed to get in the canoe without falling in the water but then it became apparent that I was rubbish at going in a straight line. I became the plucky straggler at the back of the group.

Like my first attempt at open water swimming, (in freezing cold Windermere) I did my usual thought process after that session: I am so rubbish at this, why did I think I could do this? Then I got a grip and told myself that I had 3 months to practice. I wasn’t keen to come last but, if I had to, I kept telling myself it wasn’t the end of the world if I did. I was trying something new and getting out of my comfort zone.

Eventually we progressed to racing canoes. I missed a few sessions due to family commitments and the marathon training but when I went back everyone had moved on to sleek racing canoes and they were all raving about the boat called Bertha! I had to have a go.  Bertha is a racing canoe but slightly more stable than some of the other boats. It was a revelation for me as there was a skeg which helped to make the canoe go straight. Turning in it took forever but I didn’t care, I could finally go a lot straighter!

We had coaching also from John and Carol from the Canoe club who were very patient with us. We practiced our transitions on the banks of the Dee and, as race day got closer, I began to think that I might just be able to do this without looking like a complete idiot in the canoe leg (and perhaps not finish last?)

Photo of AM at Chester bridge

Glorious day for the recce of the bike course .

I also managed to head out with Hannah and Hilary for a recce of the bike course. Hilary is a keen cyclist and her idea of a gentle cycle (the day before doing the Chris Hoy 100 miler) was a bit of an all out cycle for me! I had swum in West Kirby marine lake that morning, drove straight to Chester for the canoe training and then we headed out onto the bike. I planned to go for a quick run when I got home but I was exhausted and did not move much off the sofa that night.

The best bit of having signed up for this race was no doubt meeting, and training with, all the amazing women. We all remained really supportive of each other. There was a real excitement in the air the day before the race when we all gathered to sort out our canoes and paddles for the race and to get them to the transition area. Plans were made for a picnic following the race the next day.

The Race

At the beginning of July, 2 weeks away from the race, I had my doubts as to whether I was going to make the start line. I had just gone off sick from work with stress and anxiety. Should I really put myself under further pressure? Would work consider that I wasn’t really ill if I took part? My GP had advised me to keep exercising throughout so that’s what I did.

Photo of transition

Transition is slightly more complicated than usual!

I decided to go ahead because it seemed a waste of 3 months of canoe training. Triathlon is my “happy place” and I thought I would feel even more of a failure if I didn’t do the race. The sense of achievement of completing the race would hopefully give me a boost.

The morning of the race was grey and drizzly. I didn’t have the family with me as Adventurous Daughter was grading for her judo belt which is probably just as well for them as the weather was so miserable. The camper van was all loaded up with kit and picnic items and I was ready to go at the crack of dawn.

Jean had provided us all with a checklist for transition; useful because there was even more to think about. Our paddles, buoyancy aids (we all had a giggle that we had to wear buoyancy aids on the canoe leg, given that we had swum in the water prior to that!) and canoe shoes all had to be there with the usual bike and run gear.

The race started with a walk across the Meadows in Chester to the start of the swim. It was the first time I have ever been in the first wave of the swim as we quadrathletes were set off first before the triathlon waves. I felt like royalty as the announcer kept saying that we were making history with the world’s first women only quadrathlon.

Photo of AM in canoe

Canoe leg, poised to overtake…

I managed to make a good start on the 750 metre swim for a change and I came out of the water in 17 minutes and 20 seconds. Members of the canoe club were on hand to help us with carrying our canoes down to the water.  So off I went, noting that I wasn’t last out of the water for the swim so I had a good chance of not being last on the canoe leg which was now my number one goal for the race!  I even managed to overtake another woman (sorry Helen!) in the canoe.

Buoyed up (no pun intended!) by not being last in the canoe leg, I was off onto the bike. The drizzle was quite heavy by now if that is not a contradiction in terms. I was really glad of the recce of the course as I knew when to power on and when I had to ease back. I had to stop for roadworks but there were marshals making a note of anyone stopped and my time was adjusted by 30 seconds later to take account of the stoppage. It was a nice relatively flat out and back course so I actually enjoyed the bike leg for once!

Photo of AM running

Digging in for a great run time, only 24 secs off my PB

And then finally onto my favourite discipline, the run. Two laps of the Meadows stood between me and my Quadrathlon bling so I dug in and got it done in 24 minutes 54 seconds; the 6th best run time in the quadrathlon.

As I crossed the line, Jean was there with a special quadrathlon medal to place around my neck. As she hugged me, I burst into tears. The relief of not being last out of the canoe nor indeed last overall was too great. Combined with the stress I had been suffering, it was just a bit too overwhelming for me.  Eating the yummy cake given out at the end soon put me right. In fact, I finished 17th out of 27 quadrathletes in a time of 2 hours 28 and 34 seconds. I was very pleased with that in the end.

I was feeling torn about getting home to see Adventurous Daughter who passed her judo grading and staying for the picnic but in the end the sun came out quite suddenly and who would not want to stay and celebrate such an amazing event?

So if you are looking to add literally another dimension to your multi-sport endeavours, I cannot recommend quadrathlon enough. Deva Divas do have another quadrathlon next year but be quick as I understand that all 50 places are nearly taken. I am looking for different challenges next year so I won’t be doing it again (and, let’s face it, I’m not that good at canoeing!) but I may be there cheering on or marshaling.

Jean Ashley

Jean, aka the Fairy Quadmother, presenting the prizes at the end of the Quadrathlon.

I have tried to write this blog post several times.  I went on holiday to Scotland shortly after Liverpool Tri and I had every good intention of writing a post. However, the technical problems of uploading photos to the blog continued to plague me and the lure of the outdoor life in Bonnie Scotland scuppered all my plans.

I then started to write this post several times in the last week or so and have been wondering if anyone wants to read about the ancient history that is Liverpool Tri on 14th August? Heck,  can I even remember the details of the day?  But because it was a great race , I can remember. So here we are, a quick recap of Liverpool Tri.

Despite being my local Tri, this was my first time in the race. I was super excited about the transition being right inside the Echo Arena (I am always seeking the elite treatment), less excited about the swim in the docks and relieved to know that the bike and runs courses were pretty flat.

Echo Arena

Liverpool Echo Arena as you’ve never seen it before

Events kicked off on Saturday 13 August as we had to rack our bikes the day before in the Echo Arena. Although it can be stressful leaving your bike behind, having done the majority of the preparation the night before does take the stress out of race morning. I wasn’t sure how much to leave and ended up leaving most of my kit there with a view to just bringing my water bottles in the morning with fresh electrolytes. Some of my friends just left their bikes.

On race morning, the weather was looking good in Triathlon terms: cool, dry, not much wind (always a bonus on the bike, especially near the coast) with the prospect of sun towards the end. I took our trusty camper van over to Liverpool early and had breakfast in the van. Then I made my way up to the Echo Arena to finish off the transition preparations and meet some Mersey Tri Friends. We had quite a walk from the arena to where the swim would start so I was glad of my flip flops. Sadly that was the last I saw of them because I forgot to go back and retrieve them at the end of the race!

When I went in the water, I took a moment to lie on my back and look up at the sky and, corny as it sounds, I was grateful for being in the position to be able to do this triathlon. I was healthy, financially secure enough to afford it and free to do it, not something to take for granted when so many women across the world don’t have the basic freedoms we have here in Britain.

Stepping off my metaphorical soap box, and back in the race, the swim was fairly uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! When I got out, I realised why, it had taken me 37 minutes and 3 seconds! I had managed 32 minutes in the Midsummer Dock Swim so must confess to being a little disappointed with that time after the race. At the time, I was too busy trying to get my wetsuit off over my Garmin and failing miserably to be worried about a slow swim. You were not allowed to run into the Echo Arena with your wetsuit on; it had to be in a plastic bag provided by the marshals. The concrete floor was slippy enough!

Liverpool Tri - bike

Support from Adventurous Daughter (on the right)

Be prepared for a long transition they said. Well, it was long, but not as long as Leeds so it was a piece of cake for me. We had to run in one side of the Echo Arena and out the other. Out on the bike, this was the most fun I had ever had on a bike in a triathlon! Nice flat fast course along the front. The 4 laps meant that there was always someone around and support from fellow Mersey Tri buddies was great.  I have always said that the bike is sadly one of my weakest areas so I was pleased to come in at 1 hour 32 minutes 47 seconds.

Photo of AM at Liverpool Tri

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

The downside to giving a good effort on the bike was that my quads were burning as I set off on the 10km run. Triathletes are all familiar with that feeling and I am reasonably experienced to know that it usually subsides after 3-4 km. On this occasion, it never really went away. I spent most of the run cursing and swearing that I was never doing triathlon again! I was even berating myself for daring to think that I could do a half Ironman! Luckily the run was also 2 flat loops of the Albert Dock and finally I got over the line after 55 minutes 51 seconds for the run and 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds in total. Not a fast time, but a whole 9 minutes off my previous PB over Olympic distance. Of course, the minute that I was over the line and someone put a medal round my neck, the pain subsided and I was wondering why I had made such a fuss (although I found it difficult to walk for the next few days!).

Photo of AM at Liverpool tri

My quads beg me never ever to do that again!

My verdict on the race is that it is definitely a good one for PB hunters even with the long transitions in and out of the Echo Arena. The support from the people on the course was great. I especially enjoyed the support from my Mersey Tri buddies. I am not sure if I will do the race again simply because I am thinking about different challenges next year. But, unlike Leeds Tri, I would not rule it out because it is a well organised race on a great course in a fabulous city.

Did you take part in Liverpool Tri?  What did you think of the race?

Zoe is one of the swim coaches at Mersey Tri and a simply awesome swimmer. So I asked her to write a post about swim sets. I hadn’t had any swim coaching prior to joining Mersey Tri, so the coaching sessions were fantastic but some of the terminology was baffling! Over to Zoe…

Photo of Zoe Brunton

Zoe after swimming the Mersey (very brave!)

Triathlon has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, and 14 years later it is safe to say I love it! I have competed in junior and youth races, and now continue to race in university and adult competitions. At 16, I completed my Level 1 coaching course and this autumn I will progress to Level 2. For me, coaching is a fantastic thing to do, and I would love to take it further as I have now graduated from university and am stepping into adult life! Some of my races (swims in particular) to note, include Windermere End to End, Henley Skins vs Suits and the Across Mersey Swim.

Writing swim sets is something I have come to do bizarrely frequently. I write them for Mersey Tri, for my own training sessions, for my parents, for friends who ask me for help with their programmes and I have also written them for the Uni Triathlon Team.

There are a few important aspects to consider. Who is it for? What is their ability and what is their goal? What does the session need to work on? All of these elements contribute to the set in terms of focus, distance and difficulty.

If we take Mersey Tri as an example, the sets need to cater for a wide range of abilities and they need to be very varied as some members will swim at our sessions twice a week, week in week out. For a regular session such as this, it is important to consider the annual progression with relation to the off-season, pre-season and race season, and how the athletes need to progress. For example, it is pointless to have them peak in January, when no one is racing! But as an opposing example, when I write sets for myself, because I know exactly where I am in the season in terms of fitness and progress, as well as what I need to target, the sets can be a lot more specific. Sometimes, for this reason I prefer writing a programme of swim sets for one athlete rather than a group training session due to the ability to be able to hone in on individual goals, progression, and their training as a whole. That said, I absolutely love the opportunity that group training sessions provide to try out new drills, swim ideas and, of course, the fact that there’s a group of people all doing the same thing alongside one another, pushing and helping each other. The atmosphere of club sessions is one of the best things that sport offers.

A lot of people have a tendency to go to the pool, and hammer out (or cruise through!) a certain number of lengths, or a certain time slot. Whilst this does benefit their aerobic fitness, it also leads to a plateau in training, and isn’t the ideal race prep. Swim sets are a key way of getting out of the same old routine in the swimming pool, they make sessions fun, different and challenging!

Photo of Zoe swimming

Zoe swimming the Henley Mile

Triathletes in particular, spend outrageous amounts of money on the best, newest, nicest looking, lightest, sought after, or whatever it may be, kit! Such as bikes, running shoes, Garmin’s, without even giving a second thought to the minutes they could save on their swim time – its all about shaving seconds off their bike, transition or run, and ‘just getting through’ the swim. Swim technique, and training, could get you out of the water a lot higher up in your age category than a Garmin will get you out of transition!

One to one coaching is the final aspect I will touch on, as it is one of the most rewarding things I do. It gives me as much buzz as the athlete themselves, to see the rapid progression, whether it be technique, confidence or times wise. The smile on their face makes it all worth it! And that is true of all of the coaching I do, swim sets are just the starting point.

Here’s an example swim set:

This swim set would be a set to do during the pre season, as it focuses on technique and pacing.

Warm up 

200m front crawl
50 backstroke
100m front crawl
50 fast

The warm up should be easy swimming, across a range of strokes, to warm up all muscles and increase heart rate. I like to include a bit of pace work at the end of the set to really ensure that the swimmers are warm and ready for the main set!

Main set

4 x 100 as 25 metres drill (see below for the drill) 75 metres swim 

  1. doggy paddle
  2. fists
  3. catch up
  4. thumb to thigh

400m
300m
200m
100m

+20 seconds rest at the end of each set

Race pace swims (consistent pacing)
4×50 as 25 hard/25 easy

Technique work at the start of the main set allows swimmers to break down their stroke at a steady pace and concentrate on any weak areas before taking this through to their normal/race pace work.

This main set is 1km long; the challenge here is to maintain a consistent race pace. This means that swimmers can go into a race and feel confident of what pace they should swim at and be sure that they can maintain it throughout the race.

The last part is a bit of speedwork. I like to include this so they they know they have worked hard! It is also great to know that you can handle a sprint finish.

Cool down

50 scull
50 back

The cool down is again a super easy pace to flush out any lactic acid and decrease the heart and breathing rates.I prefer swimmers to avoid the front crawl in cool down. Backstroke is great to stretch out the swimming muscles ans sculling helps increase your feel for the water. Breaststroke is great for cool down too. Happy Swimming!

If you want to contact Zoe for more info on her swim coaching, her email address is swimwithzoe@gmail.com.

Delightful Dee Mile

I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter any events between Leeds Tri and Liverpool Tri so as to focus on my training for the standard distance Tri that I did Liverpool on 14 August (another blog post to follow). The lack of organisation at Leeds Tri had put me off a little, if I am honest.

As time went on though, I missed the thrill having a race to go to (the words adrenaline junkie spring to mind!). I really wanted to do the Dee Mile but I was also hesitant because a few Mersey Tri buddies had done the Deva Triathlon on 11th June and had fallen ill after swimming in the Dee. The really nice weather and dry spell in May, followed by heavy rain at the beginning of June led to the bacteria that had accumulated on the ground being swept into the river. Hence the GI distress suffered by many.

As the race drew nearer, some other friends entered it, and I noted that we hadn’t had any really nasty weather so I told myself that the Dee Mile was just a training opportunity to improve my swim times before Liverpool Tri. I have never swum in a river before (not as a race) so a new experience box was also ticked and I found myself in front of the computer screen, with a credit card entering the 2km race.

My family were away in Scotland so I was doing this on my own. However it was a really nice event for families to come and watch. The car parking was in the Meadows in Chester. The weather was kind and lots of people had brought picnics and chairs and were settling down for a nice afternoon.

Photo of goody bag

Goody bag from the race. I liked the handgels and wipes for preventing norovirus.

Registration was quick and easy, I picked up a very nice goody bag and wandered off to the Selkie stall for a look around. Eventually I succumbed and bought a dry bag/inflatable tow for wild swimming which I later used on my holiday in Scotland.

The race briefing undertaken at 5pm, it was time to start the walk to the start. The race was going downstream with the current which was a relief. However it  took about 20 minutes to walk upstream to the start. I had flipflops for this but they were taken off me quite early for transporting back to the start so I had another 10 mins to walk over rough ground in my bare feet. Top tip: take someone with you to carry your shoes!

Also it wasn’t ideal for me as I had to leave my hearing aids at the beginning to be transported to the finish. It was very hard to have conversations with friends without them (sorry guys for having to repeat yourselves so much!). I got very hot at this point too as the sun had come out so it was a relief to reach the start and jump in off a very nicely placed pontoon.

Lining up for the start, I had to keep pushing back against the current not to go over the start line. The usual washing machine start ensued and whilst I tried my best to stay with the pack, I quickly found myself lagging behind. On the plus side, I found I got into my stroke (stride?) quite quickly once I got some clear water. I couldn’t remember the advice I was given before hand whether to get close to the bank or not but it didn’t seem to matter because I seemed to be pushed over to the middle of the river.

AM after Dee Mile Swim

Well earned hot chocolate in my special Dee Mile Swim Mug after the race

I was glad I had checked the forecast and placed my faith in it because the sun was splitting the sky and I had chosen to wear my tinted goggles.  It was simply a glorious evening for a swim.

The finish was at the suspension bridge so when I saw that coming up, I put a final spurt on. We had been told that we needed to place our chips on the timing block at the finish. On crossing under the gantry, there were some confused swimmers, trying to reach what looked like the timing blocks which were high up but it turned out we didn’t need to do this. My time registered at 39 minutes and 36 seconds; a time with which I was very happy.  Even with the assistance from the current, that was one of my fastest ever times and much faster than I had done in training.

One of my friends who did the 1km option said that the start there was a bit more chaotic. It seemed to put off some of the novice swimmers in that race especially when the fast swimmers from the next wave came up behind them because when I arrived at the finish, there were quite a few swimmers holding onto the support canoes. Perhaps the organisers could allow slightly longer between the waves next time?

All in all, even with the uncomfortable walk to the start, I really enjoyed this race. the added bonus was that I was not ill afterwards! Hopefully one for my calendar next year…

My blog is feeling a little neglected these days.  It’s been a busy old time with Adventurous Twins’ birthday, some overtime at work, a few more visits to the doctors for the rest of the family and I have been stepping up my training again.  Although becoming a distant memory, it’s time to go back to Leeds Tri on 12 June and share that experience with you.

You may remember that I had a chest infection and sinusitis and had to pull out of Edinburgh Half Marathon. Leeds Tri was 2 weeks after that and, while I had managed a few runs and swims, I hadn’t really trained as much as I had planned or would have liked. I still felt a bit tired and under par. Thankfully I was “only” doing the sprint distance as I had calculated previously that it would be too tricky to train for a triathlon after a Half marathon.

I had entered this race last August though and I was determined to share the stage (well, the same race route with the elites!) I was promised a pontoon start for the swim, a blue carpet finish and the chance to watch the elites in action. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn’t bad but the chance to watch the elites was denied to many for reasons you will see later in this post.

Adventurous twins were not keen to come so my sister said she would look after them. Adventurous Dad came with me and I was glad of his support. The arrangements for setting up were complicated! We arrived in Leeds at 4pm on the Saturday before the race and had to register in one of the University buildings. No quibbles there; some very nice volunteers trying hard to find out for me if there was a goody bag and a race T shirt (the answer was a disappointing no). Then, as this was a split transition, we headed first to Transition 2 (T2) in the city centre. This was on some rough waste ground not far from the law courts. I was fortunate enough to be allocated a spot near the entrance so didn’t have far to run in my bike shoes. I didn’t envy anyone who was going to leave their bike shoes attached and try to run in bare feet…

Photo of T1 at leeds

The world’s largest transition area ever?

Then off to Roundhay Park to the north of Leeds where Transition 1 (T1) was. By this time it was nearly 6pm so parking was relatively easy. This transition was huge! Easily the largest I have ever seen (not all that surprising as this is the largest triathlon I have ever taken part in). I felt nervous about leaving my bike overnight but then I realised thieves would be more interested in the shiny carbon fibre bikes than my trusty steel bike!
Finally, I got all set up by 7pm, 3 hours after arriving in Leeds. I was a bit late for dinner with friends who were not best pleased. (Yummy food though so I am eternally grateful!) I felt a bit drained just setting up. The nerves were beginning to kick in so I struggled to get to sleep; tired but wired describes it best.

Swim Start Leeds Tri

Pontoon Swim start – I am the one waving!

On race day, the weather was pretty good for a triathlon. Overcast, not too cold, not too warm. I had a later start at 10.04am. I was really looking forward to the swim on the pontoon. We were not allowed to dive in but it did mean that we were all spaced out nicely and there was none of the usual scrum at the beginning of the race. One of the problems with being hard of hearing was not being able to hear the klaxon on this occasion (not normally a problem for me) and losing a few seconds relying on watching for others setting off.  The lake was beautifully clear. I had a reasonable swim but my time was much the same as previous swims over this distance. I also felt dizzy when I got out so had to take a minute to recover.

Then I had to face the world’s longest ever transition! The run from the lake to entrance of T1 was 400 metres. I then had to retrieve my bike, make sure my wetsuit kit was in the special T1 bag and run out of transition with my bike and the kit bag. The kit bag was to be handed to the marshals at the mount line. By this time, I had run nearly a kilometre. I am almost embarrassed to publish my transition time of 10 minutes and 18 seconds but I really didn’t hang around; it was the sheer size of the transition, honest! I must have run a fair distance in my bike shoes because my cleats were wrecked at the end of the race.

Photo of AM on bike

This lady is for turning…

The mount line was at the bottom of a hill but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it looked and I was soon away on one of my fastest ever bike legs at 52 minutes 38 seconds. I will admit that a lot of it was downhill but it was also a test of my bike skills to embrace the speed! I like some of the photos from this leg especially this one as I performed the U turn.

Thankfully my run shoes were still were I left them in the wasteland that was T2.  There were a lot of crowds gathering by this time ready for the elite race so the support was great as we ran round Leeds City Centre. The pre race info suggested that it was 2 laps for my 5km run but when I got to the blue carpet, this was the start of my first lap and then it said I had to pass through 2 more times. It was a bit confusing and I couldn’t get it straight in my head so I relied on my Garmin to tell me I had done 5km when approaching the finish. I believe it was even more confusing if you were running 10km and a lot of competitors didn’t do the correct distance and ended up with the dreaded DNF…

I was finally over the line and got my blue carpet finish 1 hour 51 minutes 38 seconds after starting. I felt a mixture of relief that it was over and that, although I hadn’t put in my best time, I seemed to be over the worst of my illness. I choked back some tears of relief, smiled for the camera and soon had some shiny race bling round my neck.

AM at finish of Leeds

Blue carpet finish… at last!

If I had thought that the pre race set up was a palaver, it was nothing as to what was to come next. I queued to pick up my T1 bag but as the queue was quite long we decided to go and get lunch and retrieve my bike from T2. Luckily I had Adventurous Dad with me as he had my warm clothes, money and phone. Suitably refuelled, we returned to get my bag to find the bag drop in chaos. There were lots of angry people who had been in the earlier waves who still hadn’t got their bags. Some had been racing alone so were relying on their kit being transported to the finish. I read later on Twitter, that some people reported waiting for up to 7 hours for their bags. Some people had no phone to contact loved ones to say why they were going to be late and someone said their ticket for the grandstand to watch the elites was in their bag and they missed it all. We had planned not to stay for the elites race as we had to get back to our twins.
In the end, we probably only waited about 30 mins to be told that we had best get to Roundhay Park and get our stuff from there. As our van was there, it was not a disaster, merely an inconvenience. We jumped on our bikes (Adventurous Dad had brought his Brompton which drew a few stares!) and made it to the park. It was a bit chaotic there too but I found my bag and all’s well that ended well for me anyway.

I thought my assessment of the race might have changed with the passage of time but it remains the same, the race itself was great with the swim pontoon and nice swim, exciting bike ride and a city centre run was quite special. The organisation let it all down. The split transition was maybe too challenging for an open race of this size or maybe there was too much emphasis on the elites race.

This race going ahead again next year in Leeds but I won’t be back. I felt I earned my medal more for dealing with the problems with the race! I hope the race directors learn from their mistakes and put on a truly magnificent race next year. They have a lot of triathletes to win over.

Marine Lakes and Mountain Tops

I have a relatively quiet month in May, “just”  the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 29th May. I am building back up my running mileage in preparation for that. As my race number recently arrived, it is becoming reality.

So we will have to be content with some mini-adventures and what better than the start of the open water swimming season!

Photo of AM at Marine Liake

Dryrobe: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…with apologies to Shakespeare…

Bear in mind that the previous session of open water swimming was cancelled over the bank holiday weekend because of high winds and low temperatures. So the fact that the swimming took place at all was a minor miracle (as was the fact that the weather went from Arctic to tropical in the blink in an eye).  I was convinced that I would simply get in the water and it would be so painful that I would simply dash out again!

I kitted up as much as possible: neoprene socks and cap and took my dry robe to stay warm pre and post swim (bought at the Tri expo). I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get in without too much pain. I then tried to put my face in the water and whoa! Instant ice cream head! I pulled my cap further down my forehead and that seemed to do the trick. I managed a kilometre before I lost the feeling in my hands. Note to self: take gloves next time! I still loved it, looking up to the sky and across the broad expanse of sea (well, across the marine lake at West Kirby where we train.)

I felt inexplicably happy all day after that and I can only put this down to the open water swimming. Probably down to the adrenaline rush that open water swimming brings!

Not normally one for looking back, I thought I would also reflect on my climb up Goatfell on Arran during our Easter holiday. I wrote a brief Facebook post about reaching the top but thought I’d expand on it slightly as not everyone reading this blog follows my page on Facebook.

Arran is a wonderful island off the west coast of Scotland, reached by ferry from Ardrossan. It’s where my husband’s late father came from and where my husband spent his childhood holidays. It holds a very special place in his heart and I have fallen in love with it too. None of the family are left on the island but we go back every 2 years or so.

When we went to Arran, back in the days before we had the children, we always stayed with Adventurous Husband’s Aunt Flora who was a wonderful character and had great stories about island life. On one of these visits, we decided to climb Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran, standing at 2,866 ft. Not quite a Munro (a mountain over 3,000 ft), but as the climb starts at sea level, a fair hike. We took a long route in from Brodick Castle. By the time we got to near the top,  I felt exhausted and felt unable to scramble up the rocks to the top. I recall that I was a bit overweight and had had back problems on and off during this time but I think the biggest problem was simply a lack of confidence about scrambling over rocks. Adventurous Husband went on to the top without me.

I thought about that day quite a lot over the years. When we climbed Scafell Pike, there was some scrambling to do, I remember being apprehensive but in a better place for fitness levels and managing it no problem.

AM and AD on Goatfell

Me, mini me and Teddy on our way up Goatfell

Now that children are older, we are trying to encourage them to do some more hill walking with us so we hatched a plan that we would all walk it. We had access to some guide books that recommended that we start the walk at Corrie, a shorter route overall.

On the day, we had nice sunny weather although in some places it was quite windy. Unfortunately Adventurous Daughter said that she did not feel 100%  about just over half way up so they went back down. I carried on with my sister in law and niece Meagan.

Photo of AM at the top of Goatfell

Finally at the top of Goatfell

And we made it! It really wasn’t that hard a scramble after all but it is amazing the difference that the level of fitness makes to confidence. On the way back down, I kept vowing to myself never to get unfit again.

Top of Goatfell

I could almost reach up and touch the clouds; the view from the top of Goatfell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking and open water swimming are two of my favourite mini adventures you can have all the time and are relatively inexpensive. Being close to nature is supposed to be one of the best tonics for our busy plugged in lives so I urge you to try one or both!

Have you had any hiking or swimming adventures to share?

 

Top 10 tips for open water swimming

  1. Get a good fit on your wetsuit.

This can make or break your swim. I got mine fitted in person at Swim the Lakes in Ambleside. I recommend that you get some specialised advice on fitting especially if it is your first time open water swimming or doing a triathlon.  It needs to be snug enough to form that nice layer of water next to your skin to keep you warm. Too much and you will feel like you have the lake in your wetsuit! I have had a great experience with mine. Which leads me onto tip number…

  1. Buy the best that you can afford.

    Bala open water swim

    At the end of the open water swim at Bala

I went for a mid range suit (blueseventy Fusion) which cost around £230. You don’t necessarily need the top of the range (some of which can cost several hundred pounds) although don’t let me stop you if you fancy it! I am assuming that most people reading this will be thinking about open water swimming for the first time and will be on a relatively tight budget so buying the best you can afford means that you feel happy with the suit but haven’t spent a fortune if open water swimming is not for you. Look for features such as thinner neoprene in the arms to allow room for your arms to move while swimming.  Mine are 1.5 mm, while the body is 3 mm.  It does feel quite restricting to start with but as you break the suit in, it soon eases up.

3. Invest in good goggles

I don’t have particularly fancy goggles (Aqua Sphere Kaiman Exo) but they do have larger than average lens and side vision which is useful in the open water. I have a plain and tinted pair depending on the weather. Sadly the tinted pair don’t see as much use but they are good for those rare sunny days. I realise that this is extra expense but it does mean you have a spare pair if anything goes wrong with your main pair. Anything that takes the stress out of race day is a good idea.

4. Ear plugs and nose clip are a must (for me anyway!)

I always swim with ear plugs as do most of my tri buddies. The first few times I swam without them, the cold really got into my ears and made the swim a bit unpleasant. When you try to get out of the water, the cold can really affect your balance. It’s a bit embarrassing staggering around like a drunk at 8am in the morning! I use the Zoggs silicone ear plugs which mould to your ears although there are lots of different types so experiment to see what suits you best. I always swim with a nose clip as the chlorine in most pools irritate the lining of my nose. I tried swimming without it a few times as the irritation wasn’t going to be a problem with fresh or sea water. I found it best to have it on mainly because I was used to swimming with it. Again, experiment with what is best for you.

5. Don’t forget the lubrication…

I learned the hard way with friction burns on my neck the first few swims. After that, I have always used Run Glide (same thing as Body Glide which you can get on Wiggle) and have never had a problem since.

  1. Take off your jewellry

It is a good idea to swim without any precious jewellry. When you are cold, your fingers will be slimmer, and you don’t really want to lose your rings at the bottom of the lake. A friend of mine lost his wedding ring on a night swim!

  1. Bring a hot drink

This is really crucial for your well-being at the end of the swim. Obviously you can’t do this in a triathlon! I take an insulated cup (the type you take camping) and leave it in the car. It is absolute heaven to have a hot coffee to warm you up when you come out of the water.

  1. Swim in the open water as much as possible

    Aberdaron

    Contemplating a dip at Aberdaron

Find out about any tri club sessions near you. I went to as many organised sessions as I could before the Wirral Tri. I took my wetsuit on holiday with me wherever we went and got in the water as much as possible.  Here’s me at a bay near Aberdaron, much to the amusement of my family…

  1. Remember that it is natural to be scared

You are likely to have it ingrained in you from dire warnings as a child that swimming in lakes and rivers is unsafe. I was always told as a child not to go anywhere near the river across the road from us.  Try to recapture some of your childlike sense of adventure if the prospect of getting in the water is nerve wracking. Or remember that organised sessions have good safety cover. At Mersey Tri, we have 3 spotters on the shore and a safety canoe. Or remember that when you have completed a session, the adrenaline hit is huge!

  1. Relax and enjoy!

    West Kirby marine lake

    Sunset at West Kirby Marine Lake where I swim

Remember to look up at the sky and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of nature around you. This is my favourite part of swimming in West Kirby marine lake on a sunny day. I can look over to the hills of Wales and look up to the blue sky above. John Lennon’s quote – above us only sky – always comes into my mind.

I hope this helps if you are new to open water swimming. If you are an experienced swimmer, perhaps you could share your thoughts, other tips and experience?

As a newbie blogger, I don’t have any arrangements with any of the brands named and these are all my honest recommendations.