Category Archives: open water swimming

Face Your Fears And Good Things Might Happen.

It seems that my eldest son and I have been learning a valuable lesson alongside each other over the past few months.

I faced my fear of swimming in open water.

wpid-img-20150805-wa0010.jpgAnd then eleven days ago I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon which included my first open water 1500m swim in the Royal Victoria Docks.

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A few months ago my 7 year old auditoned to be a mascot in the Rugby World Cup.

wpid-20150704_121108.jpgThis weekend we were able to surprise him with some awesome news from his rugby idol Leigh Halfpenny. Finlay is to be mascot for Wales at Wales’ first game against Uruguay.

wpid-20150815_125732.jpgI am so unbelievably thrilled for him. I’m still thrilled for myself that I completed my first standard distance triathlon at the biggest triathlon event in the UK.

Finlay and I both nearly walked away from these opportunities. Both of us turned back round and faced our fears and we’ve both discovered that sometimes you have to do that to make the good stuff happen. Go and do something that scares you. You never know what might happen.

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A Hot, Sweaty Triathlete – A Tricurious Post

You can also see this post over at http://www.tricurious.co.uk. And while you’re there check out the other great blogs from the Tricurious team, who are tricurious no more!

I am like sooo organised. I’ve packed my stuff. I’ve packed the kids’ stuff. I’ve taken an instagram picture of my kit. I’ve tweeted it. I’ve blogged about it. I have found baby oil. I have researched tube trains that allow bikes. I’ve even put my numbers on my bike and helmet so I don’t have to fiddle around in the morning. I am just tooo organised for my own good. 

Yes I indeed had thought about all the little details that I might need. Until I got to my parents house and realised that when I had put my number stickers on my bike and helmet I had left the envelope containing my bib number and security bracelet in my hallway back in South Wales.

Sweat poured over me as I read the competitor information.

‘YOU MUST BE WEARING YOUR SECURITY BRACELET ON ENTRY TO THE EXCEL’.

The cold sweat poured down my back as I silently panicked while trying to sort the kids out for bed. What a stupid rookie error. Stupid, stupid, stupid. They were bound to turn me away at the DLR for such an idiotic mistake.

Turns out I wasn’t getting out of it that easily.

On arrival at the ExCel after the sweatiest of tube rides I spoke to a very nice lady at the Help Centre who wrote out a spare number and gave me a spare security number. The sweat that had been pouring off me in panic at forgetting my number now started to drip off me in the realisation that this, my first Olympic Distance triathlon, was about to happen.

Meeting Laura, Katie, Anita and Cathy in the Media Room at the ExCel really put me at ease. The sweat receded from a skin tsunami to a gentle creek. The balcony leading out from the Media Room gave us a great view. The sun was high in the sky, the Royal Victoria Docks were still and glistening and the occasional roar of the planes flying into London City Airport right over the top of the swim waves made me realise that my first open water triathlon was happening in a very special place.
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I was incredibly lucky to be here and I started to get the first pangs of ‘bring it on’ rather than ‘help, get me out of here’. From our elevated position on the balcony we were able to cheer and we were able to cheer Becca, the first Tricurious athlete, off in her swim wave.

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Before I knew it, the time was 11.30. My race was due to start at 12.20 and there was still the job of getting a wet suit on in a humid room surrounded by other people who seemed to have assistants doing that for them. It was brilliant to laugh about baby oil, chat trisuits with Cathy and Laura and hear about the amazing cake that Katie had made for afterwards. I realised that this is what I often miss about the races that I do. I usually go to the start on my own, all up in my head with my own thoughts feeling like I want to vomit. But on Saturday there were no vomitous feelings. The presence of like minded souls, chatting and laughing helped keep me at ease. The sweat though continued to pour off me so I sipped more water before heading down to the swim assembly.

The Swim – Keep Your Eyes On The Pig

Last week I was terrified about open water swimming. But out of no where on Saturday came a new determination. I even jumped into the docks instead of inching myself in gradually. The ‘bring it on’ attitude had really come to the surface probably accompanied by a bit of ‘get this bit out the way’.

The swim course was well marked out with plenty of buoys. I made sure I kept my eyes on the larger read ones at either end. I also decided to keep my eye out for the giant floating pig. If I was going past the pig on either side then I knew I was well round on either lap.

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I had made myself stay back and over to the sides of the wave but not long after the hooter went off I found myself almost swimming over people doing breast stroke. Oh shit, I’ve gone off too fast I thought, but my arms felt good and my chest didn’t feel too strained. So I went with that rhythm, chanting the drum beat in my head. As I rounded the final buoy I realised that people were veering off to the left. I was about to swim past the pontoon! So I changed course and managed to swim between some ladies (sorry) and staggered up the red, floating carpet to get ready for wet suit removal.

Part of me wanted to scream at everyone ‘DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’VE JUST DONE? I DIDN’T THINK I WAS GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT. THIS IS MASSIVE’.

But I didn’t and once a nice man helped me with my wet suit bag I trotted as best I could to my bike. Can I add that carrying a water logged wet suit in tired swimming arms for about 150 odd meters is not easy!

The Bike – Fecking Hilly Bridge

I love my bike, I’m good at riding. I’m from Wales, we have really big hills so I’m like awesome at climbs.

Well if I thought that before I have basically had my arse handed to me by 4 laps of London slip roads and dual carriageways. I found the bike course hard. It was really, really hot. I had stuffed a Welsh cake in my mouth which immediately dried up my entire face and also made me feel like I was covered in sticky crumbs.

Once I was out on the course I regretted putting on my cycling tee over my tri suit as the heat just felt like it was ready to melt me. My legs felt a bit slow and heavy but as I hadn’t been on my bike since my crash a few weeks ago I reasoned that my legs just weren’t in bike mode.

On the first lap I really hit the bridge with all my effort. Only the bridge had one hill, shortly followed by another hill, followed by a sharp turn which put you back on the bridge with the hill. There was then a fairly flat out and back section. And then it was back to the hilly bridge. Looking back I went out far too hard on the first lap and really paid for it for the following three laps. I did not enjoy the bike section but I knew it was a means to an end. Head down and keep going.

Into transition and someone told me to zip my cycle tee up. And then tried to tell me the reasons why I needed to zip my top up. I zipped up my top, they continued talking at me but after realising I was looking at them a bit blankly they waved me on into the transition zone.

As I came off my bike I thought my legs felt okay. This was my body giving me false information. I’ve decided the human body sometimes lies to you to make you keep going.

The Run – Hot. So so hot.

When I ran out of the transition area I saw my parents standing with my two boys. My heart lifted and I ran over to give the boys a kiss.

‘Keep going, don’t stop’, bellowed my Dad. Ooh flashback to about 20 years ago at a club cross country I thought to myself as I ran down the ramp.

A ramp. A fairly steep ramp that we would have to run back up four times. Lovely.

The run was a funny one. It was hideous but also a bit wonderful. Agony and ecstasy all at the same time. Every lap ticked off was a lap closer to achieving my goal. But I really suffered in the heat. My golden visor did a good job of shielding my face but I couldn’t keep the sweat out of my eyes. My legs felt like they were dragging along the floor so I’m not entirely surprised that I tripped, fell and barrel rolled in a section which seemed to be the most dense with spectators.

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What really keep me going during the laps was that from time to time I would see Cathy, Laura and Katie. We’d wave to each other and high five each other. In fact I don’t think I would have finished the run without their support.

When I looked around I noticed how everyone seemed to be struggling in the heat but everyone was taking the time to cheer someone else or give someone a supportive hug. By the end of this run we would all be triathletes, a title that some of us thought impossible even this morning.

Laura caught up with me and gave me an incentive to power myself up the ramp for the last time. As we ran into the lane towards the finish Laura nodded to a girl in front and said ‘you think we can take her?’. That was all the encouragement I needed and from somewhere the legs found a final sprint. As the announcer called our names we raised my arms into the air. I had done it. I was a triathlete. I real life one.

And After….

I found my family just outside the finishing area. The kids went to hug me and then sprang back. I was a triathlete but apparently far too smelly, hot and sweaty for them to hug. My parents took pictures but decided to take the kids home out of the hustle and bustle. Spectating is a bit boring for kids.

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Once I’d found my fellow Tricurious team members again we made our way out to the run course to cheer on Will and all the other runners. This part of the day really filled me with warm and fuzzy feelings. We screamed out for people with names on their vests. We cheered those with distinctive running outfits or just generally supported those who looked like they might be struggling. It really felt like we were part of the bigger picture by helping other competitors on to their triathlon goal (even though some might have looked like they wanted to punch us).

As I boarded the District Line to go home I realised that I probably looked a mess, stank of dock water and at risk of nodding off. My medal hung around my neck and I sat on the stuffy, airless train focussing on all the good that had happened that day. Laura and Katie did an amazing thing with Team Tricurious and I’m a little sad that it’s over. They have been nothing but encouraging and the support from the other Team Tricurious members has been immense. It was so good to be able to meet them and hug them. We can now say that we are triathletes, whether we leave it at Saturday’s event or choose to go on and do more triathlons at whatever distance.

As some people rose to get off the train at Embankment a woman, speaking loud enough for me to hear nodded towards me and then said to her friend ‘Always has to be one show off hasn’t there’.

I could have got narked off and given her a filthy look. But instead I thought to myself, yes, yes I am showing off and I have every right to show off. And I am not alone. If you go East you’ll find plenty more of us show offs, because today we are all triathletes.

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Conquering The Panic At Bristol Open Water

On Tuesday we returned from our family holiday in France. I hadn’t been able to take my bike with me so cycling was out but I had managed to run almost daily. I had taken my wet suit in the hope that we might be near a water sports lake but this was not to be. Instead we went to the beach and while the boys played I had a very tentative go at sea swimming. The little old French ladies who were in their swimming cossies must have wondered what on earth I was up to as I swam in the shallows along side them, cloaked in my wet suit.

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Swimming French style at Coudeville sur mer in Normandy.

That swim in the sea though just didn’t feel like enough. And the swim in the quarry felt like such a long time ago. Before we had gone away I had planned to visit Bristol Open Water Training Centre but a bike crash and a tummy bug had put the kibosh on that. Illness and the crash had taken away a few training opportunities and I couldn’t get them back. I think my husband sensed me being all fidgety about swimming and he suggested running me down to Bristol yesterday.

I had no idea what to expect but on arrival the lake looked fantastic. Still water and plenty of buoys. I had read a little bit about the lake and knew that it was a 600m course. I also knew that many people came here from South Wales so it had to be good for people to travel that distance. As I looked out over the lake I could make out the heads and arms of figures swimming around the perimeter.

We made our way in to pay and register and met Mike, the owner of the lake. If you have a minute you have to read the history of the lake and what he did to get it up and running. But briefly ‘Mad Mike’ (now aged 76) was a wind surfer who was always on the look out for a place for his wind surfing school. In 2012 he found a farmer’s field in the village of Almondsbury and transformed it into what is now the training lake. Mike is a great person and I think he is what makes the training centre so good. He is knowledgeable about water sorts and triathlon and has a brilliantly dry sense of humour.

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Support crew were a bit eager.

After paying £6 for my swim Mike directed me to the ladies changing room. And it is just that. A room to change in. There are no showers but who needs them when you’re going swimming in an incredibly clean lake (filled with carp)? Mike gave me a bit of background about the lake, the water quality and a little advice to get me started.

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Do I have to fill my wet suit up?

The lake water is chest height so Mike said I would be able to put my feet down if I needed to. He watched me get in and made sure I filled my wet suit with water. He guided me as to which buoy I should aim for initially and then the order to sight them in order to make the 600m lap. My aim was to do 2 and a bit laps to make it up to roughly 1400-1500m.

My husband and the boys had watched me get in. The boys thought it was hilarious and my youngest kept laughing about how cold and murky the water looked and how daft mum looked in her wet suit. Mike sent them off round the path to visit the goats and I headed out for red buoy number one.

As per the quarry and the sea, the cold on my face was a shock and I gasped and shivered. I brought my head up and swam breaststroke for a bit to get my bearings, then put my head down and was off. I opted for breathing every two strokes as this seems to be what I’m happiest with right now. But as I made my way round a buoy on the furthest side of the lake I felt panic kick in again. My pulse went up and my breathing rate increased. All the negative thoughts about swimming poured into my head again and I had to go back to breaststroke for a quarter of a lap. I stood up briefly and looked around. Maybe I should just do one lap. Maybe I should pull out of Saturday. But then as quickly as the panic had set in it suddenly started to ebb.

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That’s not a seal, that’s me!

I put my head down and got going again. Eventually I found a rhythm I was comfortable with and I mentally added a drum beat to my stroke. I just repeated the drum beat over and over ‘da da daa, da da daaa’. And with the drum beat came songs which I sang along to in my head. Before I knew it I was well into my second lap and I was feeling comfortable. When I felt that moment of comfort wash over me I knew I was going to be okay. If I just kept moving to the beat of my own drum I would be okay.

At times my sighting was way off and I would very briefly have to swap to breaststroke to adjust my course. But there was no repeat of the panic earlier in the swim and I started to enjoy it. I know that you can’t see anything in the lake beyond the murk but I reasoned that if I were in a pool without goggles I would likely close my eyes with my head in. It’s a tiny bit like that.

Towards the end I felt like I was gliding through the water and even wondered if I could do a third lap. But then I reasoned that with the London Triathlon on Saturday two and a bit would be enough. What struck me was how little I had thought about the swimming pool’s black line or stopping every 50-100m or so like I do indoors. Without it being there you just don’t think about it and you literally just keep swimming because that’s all you can do.

By the end of the swim I started to feel like Saturday was on for me and now I am half looking forward to getting in the docks and swimming my little heart out. I was glad that I went along to Bristol. I felt like it was a little gremlin that I just needed to squish in order to feel that bit more prepared for Saturday.

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Feeding the carp so they don’t eat the swimmers!

When I climbed out Mike wandered over to ask how I got on and gave me a well done when I told him what I had managed. I was feeling more and more pleased with what I had done and when Mike said hope to see you again I said that he would, and I don’t think I was lying!

If you’re in the South West or South Wales and you’re looking for a clean training lake then I would highly recommend a visit to Almondsbury. Have a look at http://www.bristolopenwater.co.uk. You can also look at the Facebook page here. There is a summer swimming race series at the lake and there is also a running path around the lake and cycling routes mapped out around the area.