I have a *little* race coming round very, very quickly and I am starting to panic slightly. I have only been on one big bike ride (though I have done lots of turbo training in the
stuffy confines comfort of my own room), lots of swimming, but not the open-water variety and plenty of running, but nowhere near half-marathon distance. Eek! Regular readers will know that I am a strong swimmer, not especially fast, but strong but, when I venture into the open-water environment, all that work on technique flies out of the window and I become a jibbering (ship) wreck. I definitely need to get more cold water practice in before my half-ironman in just under three weeks’ time, so I decided to enter my first aquathlon at the weekend.
I’ve done triathlon (sprint and olympic) and duathlon, but never an aquathlon. I had a little ponder beforehand about what I should wear: the reservoir swim would need a wetsuit, but then I would be running and, as I didn’t really need the padded trisuit, what would be the best outfit for this event? I then looked at Sunday morning transport and realised that the only way I could get there for the 7:55 start was to cycle, so padded trisuit it was. I looked at my Citymapper app, I looked at GoogleMaps and they both had me cycling in to town from South East London, over Tower Bridge and up Kingsland Road. So I totally ignored this and went towards the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and up through the Isle of Dogs. I know a bit of this area (mostly from running/supporting at the London Marathon), but I get a little lost beyond the, erm, top bit of the river. Mr GoogleMaps was shouting from my pocket every so often: ‘Take a right turn towards the Blackwall Tunnel Approach!’ ‘Bugger off!’ I shouted back as I pedalled really fast along a horribly busy road.
After a while, I decided to step away from the main road and wend my way towards Mile End Park and work it out from there. Time was ticking away. The sky was turning grey. I was getting a bit stressed. When you are someone who experiences panic in a water-based race, a calm journey is vital, so this was not the best preparation for jumping into a dark pool. Through Hackney I whizzed, down Dalston I dashed and up towards Stoke Newington I rushed. I knew I wasn’t going to make it on time though, so wasn’t entirely sure I’d be taking part! At 7:53 I skidded up to the entrance to West Reservoir and asked a man in hi-viz if I was too late, he very kindly said: ‘Don’t worry, we can probably put you in the next wave’. What a lovely man! I calmed down, took a deep breath and locked my bike up, before heading in to register.
After I had picked up my number, swimming cap and timing chip I went outside to have a look at what I’d got myself into. My (original) wave was about to start and I looked on as people jumped in, yes, jumped in. I’m not a jumper inner. I hate jumping in. First pang of nerves. I decided to find the loo and get myself ready. The facilities here are great, there’s a cafe (though I didn’t make use of this, so can’t vouch for its niceness), plenty of loos and there are even hot showers (none of this ‘You’re swimming in cold water, toughen up!’ nonsense here). In the changing room, I got chatting to another swim/runner, who was also a bit nervous and it turned out she had been here before and had lots of good things to say about the experience. Now to find somewhere to store my stuff. Most lockers were locked, but some were open, but with stuff in them, so I ended up just leaving my bag in the changing room, reasoning that these were nice people who wouldn’t be interested in nicking my purse, my phone, my warm clothing and my bike lock key. Gulp. More lockers or a bag store please!
Time to go! There was a very relaxed pre-race briefing by the nice man I had met when I arrived, then it was down to the jump-in jetty. At the end of the jetty was a very jolly woman with a big camera, saying ‘Now, do your most dramatic jump in for me, go on!’ Nope. I’ll just sit here and dangle my feet in thanks, then slowly schlumph in in my own time. Thank you very much. The water was lovely, really pleasant and I didn’t gasp once – this didn’t mean I had any plans to put my face in just yet though. The sky was getting greyer and the water stretching out in front of me seemed even darker. Aaaaahnd, off we went! As always, I let the big men get over themselves and splash off into the distance, before I did a little timid breaststroke towards the first buoy. The lap at West Reservoir is 750m, so I would be swimming two laps, for now though, I would just get to the first buoy.
Not long ago I did the 5km Swimathon at the London Aquatics Centre, I trained hard, working on my technique and really powered along with a strong front crawl. Here I was doing a feeble breaststroke as others peeled away confidently. I really do need to sort my head out about this 😦 ‘OK’, I thought ‘I’ll try a little front crawl now’. ‘Oooh, no! It’s dark and cold!’, back to breaststroke. Jeez, I make it into a big old ordeal for myself, I even got a bit bored at one point. Lap one done and another to go. ‘Right, I’ll definitely do front crawl now!’ and yes, I did for a bit, overtaking people, sighting really well, reaching the buoy quickly and efficiently, then back to breaststroke and slowly pootling along again.
As I neared the end of my second lap, I saw something dark splashing about in the water, a leg or arm reaching upwards. I wondered why the marshal wasn’t acting on this and going to this person’s aid. As I got nearer I could see clearly that this was not a wetsuit-clad limb, but a bloody great big black fish leaping in and out of the water! You should have seen me move! Woo-hoo! Sharks! I watched with interest as those ahead of me negotiated the water exit and wondered what the score was, would there be a shallow bit to stand up in, would there be a grippy mat thing? No, there was a wooden ramp with green slime on it, so I oh so elegantly schlumphed back out and attempted to stand up as cramp set in. There’s probably a photo.
Into transition, which was soggy and grey, it had been raining while I was in the water and I hadn’t noticed. I peeled off my wetsuit and wrestled with my damp socks and running shoes, not really managing to adjust my elasticated laces properly, which made for some really uncomfortable numb-toe running as time went on. Finger on my Garmin, I looked around for the run-start timing mat, but there wasn’t one, the mat was in the entrance to transition, so all that faffing about had counted towards my run! Damn it! The 10k run was an eight lap course around the reservoir. This was on grass, with a narrow groove carved out by earlier runners. It skirted a river to one side and was overlooked by new developments and a path frequented by dog walkers and runners, what a lovely place to live! The field was small in this race and, as I had started in one of the last waves (and made such a pig’s ear of the swim), I often felt like I was on my own. Now, I like this, I enjoy being able to concentrate and just focus on my form, so this suited me. Even though there were eight laps to keep track of, I managed to do so – though I was doubtful after a friendly chap spoke to me on the fourth lap and I briefly lost concentration! A few more laps – each one with a little smile and nod to the photographer – and it was time to head to the finish and a banana, a bottle of water and a Topic, yes a Topic, nice!
I gathered my wet things from transition, chatted to a man who was training for an Ironman in Bolton, thanked the marshal who gave me encouragement every time I passed him and went to grab my stuff to go home. I’d quite like to do one of these events again, now I know how to get there 😉 I might enter a shorter distance though and see if I can speed up a bit. Now to look forward and build myself up for Holkham Half-Ironman, it’s not going to be easy, but it will be so much nicer if I can get on with the swim and do front crawl!