After pulling out of my first triathlon due to injury I was keen to find another race this summer to enjoy. I had heard great things about the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington as an Open Water facility, so when I saw that Capital Tri put on a Splash n’ Dash race there in August I signed up immediately.
Wetsuit & trisuit packed we walked to the reservoir to get set up. The facilities there are great and the organisers had clearly laid out a transition area in the parking lot. After a quick briefing and a warm-up that consisted of trying to put on a wetsuit, I was out on the docks with my 8:50am sprint wave. We were to swim 1 lap of the 400m course, exit the water at the ramp, run a few metres to the transition and then start our 4 lap run of the reservoir (5k).
I jumped in the 17* water and realised how cold it had gotten since the last time I was in some open water during the July heatwave. I let the water into my suit and just tried to keep moving for the 2 minutes before we started. A quick photo and we were off. Well, the 29 other people in my wave were off and I did the following:
kick kick kick
WTF? I can’t do this. Those 3 kicks exhausted me and I think I moved closer to the start so that’s 403m to go now.
I did a few breast strokes to buy some time and figure things out, but they made me more tired. At the briefing they said if we needed help we could go on our backs and the kayak would come to help us, it didn’t mean we’d have to DQ, but help was there. All I could really think of was catching my breath so I went on my back and did a few big snowangel strokes and thought about how to get around this course. Never had I wanted to just run so badly. The kayak came over and asked how I was and that I technically wasn’t allowed to swim on my back so back to breaststroke it was.
For some reason I just couldn’t fathom trying front crawl again. I just put my mind to slowly doing the breast stroke to each buoy, then the next, then the next, etc. At the time it was the only way I could see finishing this thing. About 1/3 of the way the next wave passed me, then 2/3 another wave went by. I can’t explain to you how slow my breast stroke is, I’ve always preferred front crawl and find it way easier than breast stroke. Except during races apparently.
When I finally made it around and helped out of the water I jogged over to the transition area and had a little sit down. Getting my wetsuit off at the best of times is difficult and I just wanted a moment to chill out. Wetsuit off, socks on, shoes on and off I went. Running was such a delight after that swim and I was really enjoying running in a trisuit. No shorts riding up, no wedgie, no shirt flapping around. All perfect.
4 laps done (and elastic bands on the wrist to prove it) and I crossed the finish line to grab a delightful goodybag and grab my time from the timing truck. My 400m swim was 3 seconds faster than my 5000m run, not quite the result I was looking for but at least it was on the faster side. (To compare I have been doing 400m in under 12 minutes in the pool). I was just so happy to have finished it and be eating a delicious mars bar that I didn’t think much of it while I watched the rest of the Standard distance athletes finish (800m/10k).
We all stayed at the cafe to warm up and watch the presentations. No prize for dead last, but they did have extra goodybags at the end so guess who went home with 3 mars bars?
I wasn’t too upset with the whole day, pretty happy I finished it and got out to try something new. I did feel a bit of unfinished business with the open water though, and thus arranged to meet up with my friend Laura for another session to prove I could do it.
We met at Hampstead Ladies pond on a Monday after work and even though you don’t need a wetsuit, I asked if I could wear one (promised I wouldn’t be doing #triknob drills) so I could practice swimming in it. The water was a chilly 16* (mostly for Laura who didn’t have a wetsuit) but once in I had no problem getting my face in and swimming front crawl through the maze of buoys playing sighting games with Laura & Josie.
I’m glad I got back in the water and hope the first splash was just one of those things that sometimes happen in races. Not sure I’ll keep up my open water practice through the whole winter, but am keen to dip in once in a while.