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Triathlon training hurdles jumped – despite the weather. Part 2

Written by Fiona May 27 2011

If you read this blog you’ll know my feelings on open-water swimming. I hate it. You may also have read about my mind-blowingly idiotic agreement to do a triathlon for charity that includes an open water swim. From the moment I said “yes” to this challenge I have worried about the swim. On the day I will need to swim 1500m (60 lengths of your average pool) in the London’s Docklands (is this the River Thames?!)  in whatever weather happens to occur that day. It will no doubt be cold, yukky and violent – and it may have the potential to give me a terrible lurgy.

I gave the open water swimming a little go in Lanzarote and I whimpered like a girlie girl. The last time (the only time!) I swam in Loch Lomond I had a panic attack. But then my coach, the Mighty Vickster, told me I’d really need to get some time in open water. She suggested a time when other Glasgow Tri Club members would be swimming – and at Loch Lomond.

I had been hoping and praying that when I awoke on Thursday morning that the wind and rain of late would still be so bad that no-one would dare to swim in Loch Lomond. Not even the open water swimming nutters that populate our club in a scary number.

The weather still looked pretty grim to me but at 8.30am I had a text from Wonder Woman Wendy (WWW) saying she reckoned the swimming would be on. A Facebook message during the day from another club member confirmed that a few hardy souls would be heading to the loch.

Still, in the back of my mind, I knew I could choose to do this session. When I arrived at the lochside it looked dark, daunting and very choppy. I thought I’d just choose to drive back home. But the others wouldn’t let me.

WWW was there, with her partner. As were a couple of other tri club guys and a group of people from Loch Lomond Masters Triathlon and Swimming Club.

“They are all totally nuts,” I thought. Maybe I even said this out loud because I was soon being encouraged to get changed and give the swimming a “wee go”.

“We’ll be there with you,” they said. “You only need to go a short distance and then we’ll help you out,” they suggested. “If you can swim in these conditions then you will be fine in any open water situation,” the added. “Oh, you might as well because you’ll be fine,” they kept saying.

Still mumbling about my concerns of big bitey things in the water, scary 6ft jumping pike, the freezing cold, the current, the waves, the choppiness and my thin, weak body I got changed into my Sailfish wetsuit. I added neoprene gloves, socks, a swim cap and a neoprene cap. I took my goggles and I padded with terror down to the beach.

On closer inspection the water looked even darker, more fearsome, far colder and much more choppy. But I had to get on with it and face my inner demons.

WWW never left my side and the other guys, Cameron, Mark and Craig, were always close by making sure I was OK. The first step was to walk in. Freezing. Then I had to put my head under the water. Utterly freezing. Then I had to swim against the choppiness. Freezing and hard work.

Actually, the wetsuit did manage to keep my body pretty warm. It was really only my hands, feet and face that were properly cold and numb. So, the decision to get a 5mm wetsuit was definitely the right one.

The usual swim outing at Loch Lomond is a triangle of about 1km from the shore to a beach, to a pier and back to the shore. I found it almost impossible to use my learned swimming technique, I swallowed lungfuls of cold water, I found myself exhausted and gasping for breath, I felt disorientated, lost, a little panicked and out of my depth. But I keep at it and despite ice-cold hands and feet I found myself relaxing into the swimming just a tiny, weenie bit.

WWW kept telling me I was doing brilliantly and when the others said that this was the worst conditions they had swum in at Loch Lomond I started to believe that if I could swim here then I might just manage the London Docklands.

By the end of the session I was still cold, I felt nauseous and exhausted – but I felt just a bit chuffed with myself. Well, to be honest, I felt a lot chuffed with myself. I’d swam far further than I thought I would and managed despite the cold and the wind. My hands were too cold to undo my wetsuit and my feet were too cold to feel the ground but I’d still taken a small step and jumped a huge hurdle in my London Triathlon training.

Who knows? In calmer conditions I might actually learn to enjoy open-water swimming. We’ll see!

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