For the twelfth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how my “A” race for 2018 had suddenly changed. My goal had become bigger, the challenge greater.
I would become an open water swimmer, and successfully complete an OW Triathlon.
As you have read in my blog, previously Ch. 11 Durrington Triathlon “a stepping stone” my first triathlon on the 13th May 2018 was a huge success. I had trained as best I could for the event, and I had Pb’d everywhere except for the run. I had come close to a PB run too. My swim Pb, however, was a huge 11 minutes.
It was especially poignant to have my first swim coach, Sarah Jenkins, as my lane judge in that event. Not only had she seen the product of all her hard work. Unwittingly, she had encouraged me to raise the bar and up my game. I had proven I could do a pool triathlon. I had proven (to myself) I could swim. The doors to endless opportunities had been opened.
The pool was no longer long enough for me.
I was buzzing and quickly set about looking for the next challenge. All only after a few weeks of finishing my first ever multi-sport event, “The Avon Aquathlon”
I sat down with Billy (Tri Force) and discussed my options. Before I knew it my questions were not about whether I could swim an open water event, but how far. The Cotswold Triathlon had now become my “A” race for 2018 – The bar had been raised! 2018 was going to be an awesome year.
I entered the Cotswold Tri on the 25th May 2018 (12 days after my first ever Tri!) Super eager, I quickly set about hiring a wetsuit for the Open Water season and got in the lake two days later.
My first open water swim
My first open water swim was a “Fear Fest” and a triumph at the same time. I stood at the side of Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park looking out at that first buoy, trembling! The 750 loop seemed impossible, and the first bouy seemingly miles away. OMG! What have I done? How am I ever going to do this Triathlon? The Triathlon I had entered involved a 750m OW swim.
I had no idea at this stage, that I would be standing on the start line of the most pivotal event of my “Fatman to Ironman” Journey so far. I wouldn’t know this until registration (the day before race day), there are a lot of lakes here.
It turned out to be a real blessing. However, I still had to get through day one of Open Water swimming.
Nigel Brown, my ever suffering work colleague, would suffer again today.
For several months now the office chatter had changed from (Chapter 2) slimming world (We were both losing weight) to swim, and Tri challenges. The difference this time… Nigel knew he could swim, Royal Marines tend to have to do it from time to time. I had only just convinced my self I could swim in a pool. I knew I had to get in that lake.
I got into the changing room and set about slipping into my wetsuit. I was quite surprised how trim it made me look. Nigel thought otherwise, and we both walked to the side of the lake. I wasn’t going to hang about and allow my fears to get the better of me. So I strolled in waist deep and then took my first plunge in a lake…. Since I had near drowned, as a child.
It was cold, the shock made me stand up again. I quickly composed myself and tried a few breast strokes. I thought I had been hiding my fear well but clearly the close proximity of Nigel suggested otherwise. I just needed time to settle before I got going.
Nigel had suggested we try the 200m loop first of all, and see how I got on. I was very glad about this, as the option of swimming 750m was definitely out at this point.
As we headed toward the first bouy in the triangle, I remembered the sighting techniques I had learnt in the pool. Doing this meant I was not focusing on technique. I couldn’t control my breathing, and I could feel myself begin to panic. I had learnt in the pool to change into breast stroke and keep going. This was how I eventually got to that first bouy. However, I wasn’t there yet.
I now found myself well out of my depth, and what felt like the middle of the lake. As I looked over my shoulder, swimming back was a lot further away than where the first bouy was. On reflection, whilst I was out of my depth. I was actually quite close to the shallows. It just didn’t feel like it, as I treaded water for as long as Nigel could bear.
“Come on boy” I heard him say. That fuelled a fire in my belly I hadn’t had since my first ever full time job. My boss/apprentice master would soon learn how I reacted to being called boy, and use it many times.
Nigel had actually said “Come on, swim to the bouy” (and have a break there) All I heard was boy!
We would laugh about this many times as we swam around that lake. He didn’t know why I was angry, I didn’t know why he kept saying it. It wasn’t until we finished our swim that it all came out.
In fact, not that Nigel knew it at the time, but putting that fire in my belly was just the thing I needed. I would go on to swim that 200m loop three times. The last loop, on my own and growing in confidence.
Swimming OW with my Tri Swim Coach.
After my first OW swim at Lake 32, I would go on to have a mixed bunch of OW swims leading up to my event. A particularly fond memory of mine is getting in the lake at Eastleigh with my Tri Swim coach Katie “Narna” McBain.
The build up to the swim in Eastleigh had been good for me. I was enjoying open water swimming and becoming quite confident. I was eager to get as much OW swim experience as I could, and the chance to swim in a different lake (coached), could not be turned down. Katie wanted her newbies “The Divstars” to progress and invited us all down for a swim, prior to the club championships.
That day it was Charlie Waters, Coach Katie, and me standing on the side of Eastleigh lake. Charlie had driven us down there and I was feeling great. Charlie was in training for his first OW event at Bowood house. Another club event.
We all got in the lake full of confidence. I was perhaps even slightly cocky, knowing I had been doing so well. I would soon pay for this.
Charlie was awesome that day, Katie would have to suffer, yet again. As I used my (Now adapted) Swim to the bouy, have a chat routine.
I had swam too hard, too soon. I was trying to impress, and certainly wasn’t relaxed. I needn’t have bothered. I later learnt that both Charlie and Katie were already very impressed with my swimming. However, I’m pretty sure it’s the fastest I had ever swam at that time.
Katie was awesome that day, it took me at least a loop and a half to relax and settle into my rhythm.
Something I have learnt from this session is i’m not strong in the beginning of my swim, but as others tire, I can endure. I will take this with me to Chasewater resesvoir.
I did indeed endure that day, I would swim 4 x 400 loops of a lake. More than I had ever swam, anywhere.
I have never been back to Eastleigh to swim, I fell in love with Ellingham Lake, in the the New Forest. One very noticeable thing about my swimming after Eastleigh was, that my pool swim had now become much, much easier.
The reason I fell in love with Ellingham Lake is varied. By far the main reason is I could now share my training with my wife Sue.
Sure a 0600 Hrs swim is early. But that’s how triathletes get their day done right? Since coming back from the Maldives, in January 2018, Sue had struggled to get her head around my sudden headlock with this sport.
She couldn’t come running with me, and didn’t want to come out on the bike. Nonetheless she hated the fact I was always “Out there” it confused her, and made her paranoid.
I so much wanted to include her. But, somehow triathlon had made her feel less and less involved in my life. She feared we were drifting apart.
Ellingham changed this!
The lake offers a very simple cafe area, complimented with plentiful dog walking areas. On top of this, a seated vista of the entire lake (On a fog free day). Perfect! I could train and Sue could be there, perhaps even reading a book as I swam around the lake?
Our first swim at Ellingham involved my coach Billy, and Pro Triathlete Fenella Langridge. It was an important swim and I was focussed! We both got up early and drove down to the lake. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
Billy said he’d meet us there at 0700 hrs. True to form I was there, and ready to swim at 0630 hrs. Fenella was nearly finished with her swim set, and was about to hop on the Turbo. As she got out of the lake she confirmed the loop measurement to Billy. She had been wearing her Gucci Garmin multi sports watch. I very much wanted one of these. However, at this stage in my training it was just about setting a time, and having a benchmark on which I could improve.
This is where Sue would be in her element. Because I didn’t have any gadgets, Sue would now become my time keeper and keep me honest. I was now being pushed by my wife, and I loved it.
Billy would see a reasonable effort from me on that inaugural Ellingham Lake Swim. My first 500m loop felt good, I did take a few breathers at the bouys to compose myself, but mostly to absorb the moment. I was enjoying my time in the water today. Ellingham is a beautiful lake.
I would go on and swim another loop that day, and make friends with the guys on the paddle boards as they encouraged the newbie around. I was surprised by the amount of encouragement everyone was giving me. The Open Water Swim community is awesome.
Sue and I would return many times to Ellingham Lake in the build up to my “A” race for 2018. Knowing Sue was on the stopwatch kept me focussed, my swim times were steadily improving, and I was less inclined to have a breather. We were finally able to embrace the sport together.
This swim was different, for many reasons!
I was weeks away from the big event. It was close to showdown time, and I was beginning to feel the pressure.
I had been given the task of swimming 1.9k (2x 750m & 1x 400m) by my coach and I wanted to smash it.
Sue and I had a lie in that day and chose to drive down to Vobster Diving Centre in Frome instead for an afternoon swim.
Vobster is a flooded quarry, one side is 20m deep, the other 40m deep.
At this stage in my training I was becoming quietly confident in OW swimming, but standing alongside that dark water that day, I was ready to just turn around and go home.
However, after a fair amount of flapping and fannying around, I got the job done!
My first 750m loop was mentally tough. I was in unfamiliar territory here. The water was so deep, and so vast. Apparently there are submerged Aeroplanes and Busses down there for the divers to explore. I never saw a thing through the depths of that dark water.
For my second loop I was more relaxed and felt at ease. I thought I was on for a good time. However, when I got quay side, Sue informed me I had finished the loop with exactly the same time as the first? A good, consistent swim! The only drama being when a load of bubbles came up from the depths. I panicked, as I thought a diver was right underneath me. For 20-30 meters you might have thought I was being chased by a shark.
I didn’t swim the final 400m that day and settled for a consistent 2x 750. I was fatigued from the distance for sure, but my confidence was growing.
After swimming Vobster there was nothing left to fear…. I was ready!
For this part of my blog I refer you to my race review of the Cotswold Triathlon “My first OW Tri”
Cotswold Triathlon 2018 – A journey
My swimming has continued to go from strength to strength. I have now swam in many lakes and many pools. I no longer fear the swim and my times are steadily improving.
However, the run leg of my Cotswold Triathlon would suffer that warm day in September 2018. It continues to be an on-off relationship of mine, now that I have been introduced to a new injury….. Achilles Tendonitis.
I knew it was becoming an issue leading up to the event, and briefly considered bailing out of the run.
I had trained hard for this event, and discussed my options with Billy (Tri Force) I had entered a cycling Sportive and a Time Trial event as part of my training plan. Some of the key events I worked towards in preparation for race day. We reflected on those gains, and adjusted the remainder of my training block.
I had done well in both events. Holding a good consistent 10M TT and being able to endure the bike leg well beyond the race day distance. This would turn out to be priceless. Having lost confidence in my run ability, I could now switch my focus toward a positive swim and a strong bike. The pressure for the run was off!
Despite a run/walk approach on the day, I nearly Pb’d. I was fitter than I had been for 15 years.
I entered my off season and approached my winter training, injured!
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-12 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe my first ever “Off season” and winter training…. I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and would be be building my aerobic base?
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
2 thoughts on “Ch. 12 – The Cotswold triathlon ”Raising the bar””