My first aquathlon race
I couldn’t remember the last time I put on my open water swimming wetsuit. It might have been last summer for a very short relay triathlon race with Glasgow Triathlon Club pals at Strathclyde Park (then again that might have been the summer before!) or perhaps it was for the Great Kindrochit Artemis Quadrathlon in the summer of 2014.
The thing is, I am not keen on open water swimming. I know there are those that love it, but for me it’s just a section of a triathlon that needs to be endured before I can get on my bike. I find open water swimming too cold and frustrating.
In fact, I am not a keen competitor of anything really. I like having a goal for training purposes but when it comes to racing I get horribly nervous and rarely perform as well as I should.
So why am I talking about my wetsuit and when I last had it on – and racing? Because yesterday I decided to have a go at my first aquathlon event and to take the plunge in chilly open water for the first time in a very long time.
I am sponsoring – as Fiona Outdoors – a series of three Glasgow Tri Club training aquathlons this summer and rather than simply write about others doing them (as I did last year) I thought I’d take part. Proceeds from the races will go to Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity (Yorkhill Sick Kids).
Which is how I found myself gingerly dipping my toes into the water at Pinkston Watersports Centre in Glasgow. GTC had hired the open water pool for a few hours and some 25 club members turned up to have a go at the aquathlon.
The event comprised a swim of 400m and a run of 5.5km.
The aquathlon swim
I got in almost last (only our nutter club member, Mark Cohen, who swims without a wetsuit got in after me). This gave me no time to get anxious – or to get out again! I found the water was cold but not freezing. I quickly dipped my head in and, surprisingly, I didn’t feel the usual brain freeze.
I started among the first few lines of swimmers and immediately wished I’d started further back. As soon as we set off I found myself in a bit of a swimming rammy with arms, legs and bodies battering off me. I told myself to man up and that this would be good practice for the larger triathlons that I hope to enter later this year because the swims are always quite brutal.
As we stretched out according to our swimming speeds I found myself able to keep a fairly even rhythm. I have been swimming at least once a week at a swimming pool over the last six months so I felt easily fit enough to do the 400m.
The problem is that swimming in open water isn’t as easy as pool swimming though because you do not have nice lanes to follow and the water is far colder and choppier. Every five or so strokes I needed to look up to see where I was going and to check where the turns would be. This meant I was slower than I would be in the pool but it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be.
We were swimming two outer laps of the large Pinkston pool. Because there are no lanes, the swimmers can swim in front, behind and at your side. I felt people swimming on my feet (sometimes actually on them) and swimming into me from the side. I tried to hang on the feet of a swimmer for the benefits of drafting but it was tricky to do so.
The first lap felt bearably fine and when I started out on the second lap I thought to myself that I might even be enjoying the swim. But this didn’t last. As I tried to keep swimming, two other swimmers (still unidentified!) swam into me and then over me.
At one point I felt as if I was being submerged by a swimmer on top of me. I had to stop and sort myself out before swimming again. This was a bit frustrating but again it reminded me that open water swimming in races can be tough and unpredictable compared to the uniformity of pool swims.
I chose to use the steps to get out of the water, rather than beach like an exhausted seal, and then concentrated on getting my wetsuit off.
The aquathlon run
I was surprised by how much I remembered from when I raced properly in 2013. I managed to get the wetsuit off without too much hassle. I pulled off my swim hat, swapped goggles for glasses and quickly slipped my feet into my race trainers (fitted with elastic laces).
And I was off for the run. My legs didn’t enjoy the first hill although because the swim was so short it really wasn’t too bad. I saw a fellow club member in front and made it my mission to overtake him as soon as I could. Sorry Alan!
After that I simply focused on the runner in front and tried to catch them up. I felt quite lightweight on my feet and tried to keep my cadence high and my steps light. The cold water had made my chest feel tight (I have asthma) so I struggled to breathe deeply but I kept going.
The clubs members who were marshalling cheered on the runners and that made me smile. By the second lap some of the quicker runners who weren’t so fast in the swim were overtaking me. I think three guys passed me. Gregor, who I later found out was the last out of the water, flew by me running like a gazelle. He is such a beautiful runner and I could only wish that I had such talent. He was the first home, too.
When Sean, the club president, told me – at about halfway around the run – that I was second lady I felt a bit of a mental lift. I knew Vicky, our head coach, would be at the front and I doubted I’d catch her. She’s a far better swimmer and usually a slightly faster runner than me so I just wished her well in my head.
And I thought that if I could be the second female overall that would be really quite okay!
There was still one guy in front that I thought I might be able to catch but he was most likely aware that I was behind him and so we both tried a bit harder. An event like this, even if it is mini, is a great way to train harder at your sports.
Although the run was not long it did have lots of ups and downs and by the third lap I was very keen to stop and sit down. I managed to keep pushing on and although I didn’t pass the guy in front I still came home second lady and seventh overall.
It was a fun event and a brilliant training session. If you like the sound of this, or training with likeminded people, check out Glasgow Triathlon Club. It’s the best club I have ever had the good fortune to be part of. It is also a club for all types of people and across a wide range of fitness levels. I was very impressed with everyone who took part in the aquathlon yesterday.
See my next blog: GTC FionaOutdoors Aquathlon in pictures
- Many thanks to Graham Milne for the photographs.