When I told people I was going to Brighton to do the 1.25km Swim Round the Pier race, most people were like, “Wow, that’s awesome, I’m not a good enough swimmer to do that.”
Neither was I.
I do a lot of things. I am not good at a lot of things. I like trying a lot of things. It may not look like this on my blog or instagram, but I like to share about the experiences. Not how I came dead last at track last night and didn’t have anyone to run with because everyone else was running at least :30/mile faster than me. I still went. I still enjoyed it. None of these things change when I’m last or finding it difficult.
I arrived in Brighton at about noon on Saturday full of optimism. The sun was out, I had remembered all the kit I needed to swim in the sea (extra flip flops to walk on the pebbly beach!), and had successfully stopped an upset stomach that was bothering me that morning. All signs were pointing towards fun.
As I arrived at the registration tent a very nice man from Swimtrek asked me if I was OK with the conditions of the sea this morning. I was honest with him. I’d never swam in the sea before, but was confident(ish) in open water so was happy to give it a try even though it was the choppiest sea in which the race could actually be held (it was almost cancelled a few times that day). After getting my swim cap I found an empty-ish patch of grass and got changed into my wetsuit and packed up my dry bag for the finish. The nerves really kicked in here. Ignorance is usually a beautiful thing for me when it comes to adventure, but sea swimming was a big unknown for me with pretty big consequences if it went wrong.
I looked around at the hundred or so other swimmers, all in varying degrees of swimsuit and wetsuits. All ages and body types too. It was one of the friendliest groups of people I’ve ever hung out with before an event. Sitting on a sunny beach while our rescue team got set up wasn’t so bad either. I was getting so hot I was actually looking forward to cooling off in the sea.
After a safety briefing and a horn to start us off we waded in and immediately were hit with high surf waves. I did my usual flailing wildly trying to both front crawl & breast stroke somehow with my head above water while waves smacked me in the face (not taught in any formal swimming lessons I may add) and mostly let the current carry me out.
Determined to at least give it ago I struggled for the first few minutes. Not going anywhere quickly and unable to get a rhythm in my stroke things were not looking good. I looked back at the beach a few times and all the spectators were still there cheering us on and no one had turned back. A few more flailing arms and an attempt to aim towards the first big orange buoy so I didn’t get sucked under the pier with the current, and I was exhausted. I turned around and must have said something about going back because the woman next to me said, “Don’t turn back, just float a bit and enjoy it.” Well I couldn’t turn back now. So I kept aiming towards the buoy and floated. I wasn’t totally last, but at this point the first people had already finished. I tried to stay in the general area of other swimmers but with the 1m swells it was hard to see the orange hats as you went up and down the waves.
When I made it to the first buoy I was pretty chuffed. Now it was just a swim back to the beach, heading back to dry land was the mental boost I need (no quicker way out of this mess at least) and just kept plugging along with mostly breast stroke, a few bits of front crawl (when I wasn’t busy swallowing the sea) and a lot of backstroke trying to calm my breath and re-group.
Time moves at a different speed when swimming. I was in the water for 33 minutes but I swear it took me an hour to get from that first buoy to the shore. When I finally made it close enough to shore to stand up I did my normal Frankenstein walk out of the water (who can do this gracefully?) and was so happy to be vertical. I was still really warm so I sat at the water’s edge for a bit and scanned the crowds for Alex who was due to come over after his triathlon in Seaford finished.
As I sat there to take it all in I was obviously chuffed to have finished at all. It wasn’t my best swimming but I did float through it and for that I was happy that I tried. I’m not suggesting everyone sign up for super challenging events or jump in the deep end and put themselves in danger, but think everyone could take a few more risks and try things you might fail at more often.
After the race Alex, Cathy, Mark and I sat on the beach for a few hours and the 3/4 of us who had braved the sea that day at various events discussed in intricate detail the choppiness of the water and near impossibility of doing anything that looked like a proper swim stroke. Cathy promised me that the sea isn’t usually that bad, and I should come back for a dip later in the summer.
I had fun, I did something I wasn’t at all confident I could do, and I hung out with friends & good food. Isn’t that what the summer is all about?