Teamwork makes your dreams work….

I apologise in advance. I’m not good at brevity at the best of times, but this is going to be long. A cup of tea is probably a good idea……

When we pulled up at the lake on Saturday afternoon to register for the race, it’s fair to say that I was feeling a bit odd. I was highly emotional due to a lovely post that had gone out on “This Mum Runs” earlier in the day which told 70,000 women about my couch to triathlon journey and then hundreds of women sent me messages of support and luck via facebook and Instagram. I had no idea what was going on when my phone suddenly went bananas as I was faffing about trying to cram 7 changes of clothes into a Kitbrixx bag. I sat on my bed reading them in floods of tears. I was now not only worried about letting my daughters down if I didn’t cross the line, but also the ladies (most of whom I have never met) that were all counting on me to get around too. I felt determined yet completely terrified.

But when we arrived at the lake to register, Merida and I started bumping into people we knew who all were smiling and the briefing itself was friendly, reassuring and importantly, very inclusive. Numbers collected, cups of tea drunk and we set off for the hotel, which was a short 10 minute drive away.

Bikes

Our room was comfortable, even with Han Solo and Shiny Sheena accompanying us (triathlon attracts thieves unfortunately and so we had been strongly advised to take our bikes with us into the room with us.) An early dinner at 6pm was followed by 90 minutes of more faffing, packing and repacking kit ready for the morning. We watched an episode of Killing Eve and lights were off at 10.15pm as the hotel were putting on a triathlete’s breakfast at 4am. There was also a wedding on in the hotel and the guests were noisy and this coupled with my general nerves meant that when the alarm(s) went off at 4am, I felt about as rested as Santa Claus after a busy Christmas Eve.

I had never wanted to eat less and yet it had never been more important, so I forced down some porridge and we were off. Merida was calm and although we both felt tired, we were quite jovial as we arrived in transition and racked our bikes. I tried to look like I had a clue what I was doing, but the cat was already out of the bag with that one as after a week of faffing, I had forgotten to pack something to wear TO the event. I was the only triathlete that arrived with a pair of Levi’s on over my bikini bottoms, but I don’t think anyone noticed as everyone was busy getting their stuff ready so they could change, grab their bike and get out quickly after the swim.

I greased myself up with body glide, used plastic bags to get into my wetsuit, was zipped in, zipped others in, and then we went to watch the first wave set off. I felt sick. I felt like I would see my porridge again any minute and I had to fight tears but managed to keep it together, mainly. Breeder of Boys was there, and she is an extremely experienced triathlete who is currently training for Ironman Barcelona and she gave me a reassuring hug. It was quite chilly at 6am on Sunday and the air temp was about 7-8 degrees. My feet were cold as I waited on the banks of the lake and I was worried about how cold the lake was going to be, but it was actually much warmer than the air temp. I waited at the back of the pack of the “green hats” and as the watching crowd counted down backwards from 10, I tried to steel myself for the what I was about to do. As “go” was shouted and most of the swimmers swam off, I counted to 10, said a little prayer and then set off.

When I swam in the lake on the weekend before, it was beautiful and clear. On Sunday it was churned up and muddy. I tried to do everything that coach George had taught me, relaxed my arms, breathed deeply and just got into a routine. There were lots of fast swimmers that went off like a rocket, but there were plenty of slower swimmers too, some breast stroking, some alternating between front crawl and breaststroke and I felt happy swimming along with them. All was going well and I was trying really hard not to think about the fact that not once, had I actually swam the whole 1900m before today, when the wave that had started after us, the orange hats, caught us up. These guys were Cotswold 113 Tri – 9.6.19 – www.113events.comtaking no prisoners and were very keen to get through. Thankfully nobody swam over me or ducked me as per the horror stories that I had read and panicked about, but I did get kicked in the chest and hit on the head. This lead to some water swallowing and some coughing, but I managed to recover and before I knew it, I could see the big red arch that was at the end of the swim and I could hear Dave (legendary triathlon Marshall who is the most encouraging person you will ever meet) shouting for us to swim to him. I started to kick my legs hard to ready them for the next part of the race. I arrived at the arch and as I tried to get out, I tripped and was almost dragged out by the marshals, but I was out and was relieved.

But no time for celebration now. I ran to transition, taking my wetsuit off and arrived at my bike.

On Friday afternoon, as I was sat at my desk, stressing about the triathlon, I received a message from Merida that floored me. She said she had decided that rather than go for a time herself, she would like to complete it with me on Sunday. Almost the next step in our crazy friendship; 10k, Half Marathon and then half Ironman triathlon. (I never pretended it was a normal friendship!) After some tooing and froing which involved me checking that she was being serious, several times, I quickly agreed. We had to have a plan as there are rules in triathlon which mean, particularly on the bike, you cannot travel too close together or “draft” each other, as you will be disqualified. Drafting is where one rider sits in on the back wheel of the cyclist in front meaning they gain an unfair advantage as they are not being buffeted by the wind and so don’t have to work too hard. With this in mind, we needed to be careful.

So, the plan was that Merida and I would meet in transition after the swim as we are similarly paced (Merida completed the swim in 50 minutes and I in 53) and then we would set off together on the bike but not too closely. We agreed a pace of 15 miles per hour (we both have computers on our bikes that tell us this stuff) and I would keep Merida in my sights. This pretty much worked well over the whole cycle. Merida would be in front and at times I could just see her in the distance, other times I was closer. A couple of times I overtook her and we had a little chat on the way past and a few times we cycled side by side, but always we were careful not to draft.

Cotswold 113 Tri – 9.6.19 – www.113events.com

I found the first 10k of the bike quite tough because I was cold. I was wearing a wet triathlon top, arm warmers and had swapped my bikini bottoms for proper (and padded) cycling shorts because 90k is a long way. In the early part of the bike I struggled to warm up. The air temperature at 7am was around 10c and it felt fresh. I was worried but just dug in thinking about what Merida had given up to race with me and also my daughters who I was going to be seeing later. I remembered the words of Triathlon Mum to me who had contacted me the night before to impart her wisdom, “eat like it’s Christmas Day on the bike” and so I diligently ate protein flapjack and drank my carb drink, regularly. The problem was as I approached 40k, that drinking half the lake after being hit on the head, coupled with plentiful drinking was not good for my bladder so I cycled up to Merida and requested that we stop at the feed station which was approaching for a comfort break. Merida was also in need, so sped off to get there first to minimise queuing and I arrived shortly afterwards.

As I got off my bike, I came over a bit wobbly and lightheaded. The Marshall approached me quickly and suggested that for the next 20k, I ease back a bit as I would need my legs for the run (remember that, it’s important……!) and I agreed. A quick comfort stop in a leaning portaloo, which had liquid on the floor (don’t think about it) was akin to ice skating in bike cleats and so I was quick.

For the following 20k we did ease back a bit, but the sun was out and I was no longer cold. I kept eating and drinking, thanking each volunteer Marshall we passed for giving up their time and before I knew it, were at 80k. My back and bum were beginning to complain after nearly 4 hours on the bike and so I was beginning to look forward to the run.

As we pulled around the corner to the dismount line and then into transition, I saw eldest daughter and Fitbit sister waiting for us. They were cheering and very excited, immediately getting on the phone to tell my other family members that we were back in and would be running past them soon.

At this point I felt quite confused and angry. It’s hard to explain. I was very pleased with how the bike leg had gone and had completed it in 3 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds. This is massively under my target 4 hours with Strava giving me an average speed of 23.9 kph or 14.8 mph. If I could be bothered to work it out, I know that the first 40k would have been much faster than the average speed too, so I had no reason to be feeling negative, but I was.

If the race had ended there, I would have been elated, but of course, I now had to run a half marathon and it was quickly dawning on me that I still had at least another 3 hours ahead of me. But nonetheless, I quickly changed, picked up my electrolyte drink and off Merida and I ran. My family were cheering and although I felt tearful, the presence of my daughters made me hold it together, until we were out of their view at least…

Of course, once they couldn’t see us, I started to cry. I had a banging headache and honestly wasn’t sure I could do another 3 hours of this. Merida, in her famous gold shorts, quickly swung into action and got me going again. I can’t believe it, but with exception of a loo stop (a proper loo, it might have been the best sit down of my life) we pretty much (but not entirely) ran the whole of the first 7k loop. It was very slow and much slower than I had been hoping for, meaning that a 3 hour half marathon wasn’t going to happen, but at this point it was very clear that the goal was simply to finish.

There were 3 water and feed stations on the run which was 3 x 7k loops. The first one, next to the toilets, was for water, the second was water, flat coke and energy gels and the third was a veritable buffet; crisps, pretzels, peanuts, jelly babies, jellybeans, cake you name it, it was all there.

On the first lap, Merida used the feed stations like the proverbial carrot – “come on, run until we get the next station and then we’ll rest”, and I obediently shuffled forwards as best I could. At each station I gulped water, then flat coke, but didn’t really want anything to eat as my stomach had really begun to hurt. I forced a couple of pringles down as I knew I needed the salt and it was hot. I learned many things on Sunday, but one of the most important ones was not wear a black tri suit.

I was boiling and it wasn’t helping my headache. Also peeling myself in and out of a black, damp from sweat, tri suit to use the toilet was horrendous. I seemed to turn into some kind of contortionist as my shoulder seemed to dislocate itself as I tried to get back into it again afterwards and on one of the three visits (one of each loop), I had to  be helped back in by a confused looking lady who was queuing with her daughter to use the loo after me.

As we were finishing lap 1, I steeled myself to see my family and promised to hold it together in front of them, but sadly I couldn’t seem to. They were all cheering but I looked into the eyes of Hockey Sister and stated tearfully “this is so hard” as Merida shuffled me through again. My sister has since told me that I scared her at this point and she mentally put all her faith in Merida to get me over the line.

End of lap 2Now this is the point where I hit “The Wall”. I’ve heard about it of course. Apparently, it happens around mile 22 on a marathon when your body has used all of your glycogen supplies and effectively you are running on empty. However, for most marathon runners this is anything from 2-5 hours in and I was in the middle of hour 6 of my triathlon.

I sobbed, my head was killing me, I couldn’t catch my breath, I dry retched being sure I would vomit, but nothing came up. Everything hurt. Everything. My ankle ached and my stomach was suffering severe stabbing pains. Anything I put into it including water, made it worse. I genuinely have no idea how Merida didn’t punch me in the face during that hour as I must have been the most miserable and pathetic run buddy the world had ever seen. But somehow she managed not to. She has since told me, that there were periods of that loop where she had severe doubts that she would get us both over the line, and it is completely down to Merida and her resolve, smiling and general magnificence that she managed it.

I don’t really remember much at all about the final loop to be honest. I was still crying and dry heaving off and on and at certain points had to ask Merida which way we were supposed to be going (as I couldn’t remember) but then, finally, we were at the end. The finish line was in sight and somehow (and I have absolutely no idea how) I broke into a sprint. I could not believe that the end was there, finally, in front of us. Mike, the triathlon Marshall that had dragged me out of the lake earlier, was cheering and so were my family. I saw my daughters grinning and teared up again. Merida took my hand and we powered down the finish line to collect our medal.

Finish sprint

I love this photo. Not just because it demonstrates real friendship and support. Not just because it shows we completed it. But most importantly because if you look over my right shoulder, you can see one of my daughters watching me finish. The look on her face makes all the pain worthwhile.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was truly horrendous in parts and overall I was third from last (somehow I beat Merida in the sprint finish so was 0.5 seconds faster than her overall, of which I do have some guilt!) Lap 2 of the run was on a par with childbirth but somehow my friend got me round. Merida you really are a complete marvel. I am so grateful that you are my friend and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

ChampagneI was happy to have finished but me being me, I was also a bit disappointed with how badly the run had gone. But I shouldn’t really have been surprised because as you know, my running suffered a hefty setback this year and so I was in no way run fit and it was really only a couple of weeks ago I decided to do the whole thing. I completed the half marathon in 3 hours and 31 minutes and so my total time for the 113 triathlon was 8 hours and 31 minutes. If Sunday had been Weymouth Half Iron 70.3 (which I am doing in September) I would not have received a medal as I would have missed the cut-off by 60 seconds and this is a sobering thought.

So lots of work to do on my running to come before Weymouth, but first I’ll allow myself a few days off and a few glasses of champagne with my triathlon buddies.

 

 

The fourth discipline of triathlon is faffing…..

Faffing. It’s an official triathlon word that is used to describe the action that happens around a triathlon. Overthinking would be another word that would work well for this also.

For a triathlon, there is an enormous amount of “stuff” you need and the “kit lay” photo I will take on Saturday evening THIS WEEK, will probably need a wide zoom lens, possibly panoramic, to get it all in.  When I did the sprint triathlon last year, I wore a triathlon suit, which is like a long swimming costume that has a small chamois in it (which is the bike padding bit) that you wear for the swim, bike and run. But the distances required for the upcoming 113 triathlon render the, frankly laughably thin, chamois completely unusable for a 56 mile bike in particular and so I have spent more time stressing, faffing and overthinking the age old question of “what should I wear” to the triathlon, than for my wedding day. The professional triathletes seem to complete the whole thing in a swimming costume, but they have much less body fat than I do and their thighs don’t applaud them as they run along…so what to do?

As always, I turned to the professionals. Coach George Clack of https://bristolopenwater.co.uk/ had overheard a conversation I was having following one of the open water swimming lessons I have been having about wanting to do a practice tri (or Trytri) and offered to accompany me for the swim and the bike part of it. I accepted gladly and arrived as promised on the Wednesday afternoon.

It is very easy for faffing to take over when setting up your bike and transition area and George was very clear about not letting this rule your race. I racked my bike, got my bike and running shoes ready, socks unrolled and a towel and then got into my wetsuit. George is very calm and when you are freaking out internally, you need calm.

We got into the lake and waited to start. I am worried about the scrum that can happen at the beginning of an open water race but George put me at my ease. Let the racers go, count to 10 and then set off. Yes I’ll be behind them, but am I expecting to win the race? (I tried to keep a straight face) no, then setting off 10 seconds later to keep out of trouble, is worth the sacrifice. So I started my watch, waited 10 seconds and then swam off. I kept myself relaxed and got into a rhythm and before I knew it, I was out and running towards my bike, unzipping my wetsuit using a couple of tips that George had given me before we started.

At the bikes, I started to get a little frazzled. George’s mantra of calm, once again helped and I slowed myself down and looked at the task in hand. For a 56 mile bike ride, it’s important to be comfortable and so I was trying out putting on proper cycling shorts over my tri suit (for the extra padding) to see if this would work, and then taking them off again for the run. George’s philosophy again of taking a couple of extra minutes to ensure comfort would hopefully pay off and so before I knew it I was ready to start the bike section. Putting on shorts had taken an extra 20 seconds so after all that faffing, the difference in time for my transition was neglible.

The bike is always my favourite part and particularly so on a sunny day as this was. George coached me round offering advice on gears, seating positions, drafting and triathlon rules and as an experience triathlete and double ironman, he has plenty of real life examples and advice to share.Tri Suit by the lake

Before I knew it, we were back at the lake and I now had to complete the 5k run. George sensibly had ducked out of this part…can’t say as I blamed him…and I ran on my own. Immediately I knew I should have taken a drink with me and the training session was worth it for this alone as I will never do that again!

The afternoon was completely invaluable to me for many reasons. Mainly the confidence it gave me around transitions and the rules, but also the fact that it showed that bib shorts over a tri suit is a terrible idea and nappy cream was the only thing that seemed to soothe the problem.

George is available for one on one triathlon lessons and I fully recommend them. This is not an ad (just to be clear), just a general recommendation.

For comfort, the bike leg is the most perplexing part and important to get right. Over the past 4 weeks, since the last blog I have been on quite a few bike rides including a lovely morning over to Bath and a lovely cycle to Thornbury with some lovely Mummy Triathlon friends. Wearing cycle shorts is fine for pretty much any distance and so following the Trytri, I have decided to take a few extra seconds in transition and change into proper cycle shorts (under a very big over the head “toncho” towel) for the 113. This in turn means wearing a tri top and bikini bottoms for the swim under my wetsuit, so there isn’t too much faffing around changing in the first transition. I still wasn’t sure at this point what I would wear for the half marathon but I planned to test this.

Running as always is up and down and helpfully the weather has been hot too, which as you know, makes it harder for me, but none the less, I have been continuing to run. The problem is, that I seem to constantly go off too fast and so I seem to be dropping back into run/walk with alarming ease. I don’t have a problem with run/walk but I think in order to regulate my breathing for the race, slow but steady will be better. The other thing is that I can’t remember the last time I had a good run and this is worrying me. I’m tired and generally knackered. I’m worried about falling over again and this seems to consume every run I do. I also hadn’t managed to get a long run in and when training for a half marathon, this is always critical, but I kept putting it off because I was exhausted.

But sometimes life offers you a life line, whilst kicking you in the teeth at the same time. We’ve had some family stuff going on which has meant that apart from one run, I didn’t manage any training for a week. But this particular run was one I will never forget. I had planned to run 10 miles, but was in no emotional state to do it, but I’m a stubborn idiot (as I’m sure you’ve realised by now) so I set off. The first 2 miles were ok and then my mind took over and I started crying and I sobbed my way through miles 3 and 4 when I bumped into Smiley and her Mum. They are ladies I know through This Mum Runs. (Smiley is a London Marathoner who never stops smiling). They let me sob on them (actually, horrifyingly as I look back, I’m not sure they had any choice truth be told) and then insisted that they accompany me for the rest of the run. We managed 9 miles and I have never been more grateful to anyone in my life. I needed the run for so many reasons and without them, I am fairly sure that I would not have completed it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the running community is pretty awesome – thank you so much.

The week off training had helped me though and my legs once again felt like themselves. I felt, well not exactly rested as the week had been extremely stressful, but I was no longer “falling down” tired, as I had been for the previous weeks. The timing was good as last Saturday Merida and I went to the location of the 113 triathlon to practice and familiarise ourselves with the place (well me really, Merida completed an Olympic distance triathlon there a fortnight ago so she knows the place well). We swam in the lake (it’s nice, clear, there were shoals of tiny fish to be seen as I swam above them) and then we cycled one loop of the two loop bike course. We cycled with some members of the tri club and it was extremely enjoyable. The two ladies that joined Merida and I were lovely. Chatty, experienced, one training for Zurich ironman and both were very happy to impart their knowledge and experience to me. Now here’s the thing, the bike loop is flat. Completely flat. No hills at all. Now I know this can’t be viewed as a brilliant training opportunity for Weymouth 70.3 in September, but I don’t care. This was the confidence boost I have so sorely needed. I have been worried about the bike leg ever since the 100k uphill Tour de Bristol, but this should be fine.

Finally off the bike, Merida joined me for a 3k run around the lake, which importantly was in the shade. Hideous but manageable. I’ve done a lot of practice runs off the bike recently in preparation so I’m hoping I won’t fall over on jelly legs and embarrass myself in front of the more serious triathletes on Sunday.

So. I think I’m ready. Obviously, I could be better prepared for the run and I know the final 10k will be 100% mind over matter, but I’m confident that as long my ankle doesn’t go pop and I get enough food and liquid into my body on the bike section (I’m taking sandwiches and flapjack as well as technical nutrition stuff) I should get round.  Nutrition and hydration will be key and I still have 5 more days of faffing about that to go, but apart from this, I think I am ready.

I am mentally prepared for the fact that I will probably be last, but I am genuinely not bothered. Trundling as always will feature in the run and I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just change into my Trundler T shirt for the run leg? At least it might make me smile as I grit my teeth for the final hour. Plenty of time to faff about that over the next 5 days.

My wave starts at 6.10am on Sunday morning and I will start swimming 10 seconds after that. I hope to complete the 1.2 mile swim in around 50 minutes, the 56 mile bike in around 4 hours and then the 13 mile run is anyone’s guess. I’d be delighted with 3 hours for that, but have no expectations really. The goal is to finish and then enjoy the cold can of full fat Coke that has been promised to me by my daughters. I suspect that Merida and myself may indulge in some other fizzy type drinks later on in the day also, if all goes to plan.

My next blog post will hopefully be a post race analysis but I still have to that “20 minute easy run” to get through this week. My sister said to me yesterday “don’t fall down any holes this week”. Wise words indeed.

Couch to half ironman distance triathlon? Let’s find out. I’ve promised my daughters that I will do my very best and this is all I can do. Let’s hope it’s enough.

See you on the other side.

Suspension bridge June 2019

 

 

 

Wetsuits and open water swimming

Outdoor swimming is a curious thing. Generally, people who decide to enter the foray of triathlon have a strong background in running or cycling and often swimming is their biggest challenge. Open water swimming in particular, can make even the burliest triathlete squeak in fear as they take their first steps into a lake or the sea.

My background in running is fairly well documented (*coughs*) and I am a recently converted cyclist. But I have swum for many years off and on and although I have had to re-learn how to do front crawl properly, I do not fear the water and actually I prefer open water swimming to the swimming pool. I think this comes from the fact that I am a confident breaststroker and so if everything went wrong whilst I was swimming, I know I wouldn’t drown and would be able to get myself safely back to terra firma.

However, I am not a strong front crawler and although my lessons have now concluded, I have been continuing to swim lengths in the pool. But I seem to have got worse in recent weeks not better. Swimming in a pool is fairly dull. Even if you go with a friend, as I do sometimes, you can’t chat whilst you swim as you can with running or cycling. Death follows swiftly if you try and chat as you attempt to bi-laterally breathe (on both sides) as you swim up and down. Water in your lungs does not help with buoyancy. Apparently you can get headphones that work in the water via Bluetooth and so in theory I could listen to Take That as I swam back and forth, but apart from the fact that I have faithfully promised my husband that I won’t spend any more money on anything triathlon related, swim dancing is not really a thing in triathlon so that’s not really an option either.

Merida has shown me quite a few swim drills which do alleviate the boredom a bit eg 100m focussing on your arm technique, 100m focussing on your kick, 100m wearing little shovels on your hands which help you with your hand placement and “pull” through the water but even this wears a bit thin after a while. I find my mind wondering and not concentrating on the job in hand and then becoming fixated on the plaster I can see at the bottom of the pool at the 20m mark and then wondering what other hideousness I am swimming in. *shudders*.

With my swim confidence at an all time low, I booked a swimming lesson with John Wood who has been swimming nationally and internationally for 25 years and is also a “Good for Age” GB triathlete. He has coached some swim sessions for my tri club and is also Merida’s triathlon coach. He knows what he is talking about and is also a really nice guy, which always helps.

https://www.tri-coaching.co.uk/about-us/meet-the-coach/

I arrived for the lesson feeling quite low and extremely nervous, but the 45 minutes was possibly one of the best investments I have ever made.  The most important thing I took from the lesson is that I am not a terrible swimmer and when you are lacking in confidence and approaching the business end of your training plan, this is important to hear. I do have a tendency not to look down at the floor enough whilst swimming, which in turn leads to my legs sinking and I am told this is quite a common problem. However, given that I have been working on this now for over 4 months, it’s a bit irritating. But John gave me some drills to practice and I was feeling much better about life.

#notanad but I really recommend John if you’re thinking of perfecting your swim technique.

Pool swimming has been a staple in my weekly training plan now for some months, but, both of my triathlons are in open water this year and both at the distance of 1.9k and so I knew I needed to get out of the pool, and in England, this means buying a wetsuit.

I’ve worn wetsuits before to the beach as our family is a regular visitor to Woolacombe each Summer but a triathlon and swimming wetsuit is very different.

Firstly, even with substantial weightloss, I do not look like most triathletes. My boobs are a 34FF (I was a 42FF), I am only 5ft 3.5 (the half an inch is very important when you’re short like me) and I weigh 90 kilos. Now this is a massive reduction from the 117 kilos I was when I started running, but even so, I am much heavier than your average triathlete.

Wetsuit size charts are incredibly complicated as they work on weight, chest size and height. I didn’t care what the wetsuit looked like on as long as it fitted, but I really didn’t want to buy a man’s one as having had to buy men’s clothes for years due to my size, I didn’t want to go back there.

Unfortunately, my weight meant that I probably would end up having to get a man’s wetsuit but I was determined to try female versions first of all. I ordered from Wiggle (online store, very good and importantly free returns) so I could try them on at home. The box arrived and sat in the corner of my bedroom for over a week. I was dreading trying them on and so was putting it off. But I had also booked myself in (well Merida had booked us in actually as she knew I needed the push) for an Open Water Swimming lesson at the Triathlon Centre in North Bristol on the Wednesday evening with an experienced Ironman triathlete called George Clack, and so I had to try them on.

The first thing to be aware of is that getting into a wetsuit is exhausting. They have to be tight, very tight and they are quite grippy and stick to your skin. If you have long fingernails, file them off as it’s very easy to put a finger nail through a wetsuit which immediately renders them less helpful.

I’d had PT at lunchtime on this day and had done cycle sprints and weights and I think getting into and out of 3 wetsuits was even more exhausting. I’d ordered 3, a cheap, middle and more expensive one and I started with the most costly: dhb Aeron Lab. I couldn’t even get this past my hips. I was gutted and had a sinking sensation about the other two. Zone3 Women’s Advance was next and it took 10 minutes to get into it with the assistance of my long suffering husband. Although it was tight (understatement – he almost had his knee in my back at one point trying to get it done up) once it was zipped up, it felt ok. I could breathe, it wasn’t too tight on the neck and I felt ok. It was like wearing SUPER spandex. I finally tried the last and cheapest on: Zone 3 Women’s Azure.  WetsuitThis was by far the easiest to get on as it seemed to be the most stretchy…..but once in it, I couldn’t really move my arms (much like the time I had to be cut out of a Boyzone T-shirt that I had bought stupidly thinking that “skinny fit would be ok…it wasn’t) so sadly that one was a no. But finally, I had a wetsuit, and I was delighted. I look a bit like an Avenger (if you squint really hard and almost cover your eyes) and I feel like a superhero in it.

So now, just to get in the lake. The following evening rolled around and I arrived at the lake with 20 minutes to spare. I have swum in the lake previously last year, but this was in the midst of a heatwave and so I didn’t need a wetsuit at all. One this evening, it was freezing cold and the sky was grey. I dragged myself off to get changed and was relieved to find a lady in the changing room who I knew from running. She helped to zip me into my wetsuit and I did the same for her. Anyone that wears a wetsuit needs help and I have discovered that people are not afraid to ask for it. On my past two visits to the lake I have zipped and unzipped 3 complete strangers, men and women into their suits. Merida arrived and we set off the side of the lake where George the coach, and 4 other people were waiting for us.

What I have learned from two open water swimming lessons so far with George are as follows:

  • No matter what the temperature is officially, the water hits you like a brick when you first get in and it’s hard to breathe. You have to take time splashing the water on your face and onto the back of your neck and try not to scream out loud as the water seaps in naturally through the zip. Do NOT, as I did, open the neck and allow a flood of water to seap in quickly. On Wednesday the temperature in the lake was 12.5c. When an Ironman Triathlete coach says “it’s cold tonight. There will be no shame if you decide to get out early. You will never have to compete in temperatures that are this cold”, you know it’s going to be a bit fresh.
  • It’s most important to swim as slowly as you can to start with, almost in slow motion. Also, and bear in mind that I have spent the last 4 months learning how to breathe on both sides after 3 and 4 strokes, in open water swimming, you breathe on the same side and after every two strokes. HALLELUJAH. I find bi-lateral breathing hard and so this is brilliant news.
  • Even better, you float in a wetsuit. Completely. This means that your legs float too so no more sinky legs for me. Hoorah. I still need to keep my core tight and be mindful of my legs, but it’s MUCH easier in a wetsuit. Swimming is easier in a wetsuit, full stop.
  • When the lake is cold (and it’s cold, make no mistake) my googles steam up. My teeth are also affected as when I open my mouth to breathe, some cold water comes in (which I spit out as I breathe out under water) but before long, my teeth go numb. It’s a very weird sensation.
  • Whilst my body gets, eventually, warm in the wetsuit, my feet, hands and face are not. You hardly kick whilst swimming in a wetsuit (important to save legs for the cycle and run so this is good news) but this means that your feet are essentially just suspended in very cold water. Arthritis in my bad ankle is affected enormously by the cold and so I’m going to get some “wetsuit material” socks to try and keep my feet warm.
  • When you leave the lake, you are cold. Much colder than when you initially got in. You need to rinse your wetsuit and so have to take it off, in the fresh air. This is a whole new level of cold. Getting changed after swimming is a challenge as I started shivering so much I couldn’t do my bra up or do my laces up on my shoes. Ugg boots are the answer and probably elastic laces for the tri. Thermal vests are important and I don’t need a hairbrush as I towel my hair off and then put a woolly hat on.
  • A post swim cup of tea is absolutely essential, as is a warm bath when you get home afterwards.

But all in all, I love open water swimming. The start waves have been published for the 113 triathlon and there are 6 waves, all setting off at 10 minute intervals. I am in wave 2, starting at 6.10am (I’m trying not to think about what time I’ll need to get up at the moment). My biggest fear isn’t that I can’t complete the swim, it’s that faster swimmers from the following waves will catch me up and swim over me or I’ll get punched in the head during the swim. I need to also work on swimming with lots of people around me. I’m booked in for more open water lessons and I know we’ll be working on this I the coming weeks. But for now, I still haven’t swum the entire 1.9k required of the tri, but I’m going to the lake after work tonight and this is what I’m intending to do.

Practice and consistency in the lake will be key over the next 4 weeks….oh and sunshine. Please keep your fingers crossed that it warms up a bit as whilst it’s just about tolerable at 12.5c, it’s always more enjoyable if it’s warmer and my teeth don’t go numb….and even more important if you’ve immediately got to jump on a bike straight afterwards. But that’s a worry for another day.

The Lake May 2019

The Triathlon Centre run lessons every Wednesday and I heartily recommend them -suitable for experienced and inexperienced swimmers and triathletes.

Details can be found on the website: https://bristolopenwater.co.uk/   #notanad