I signed up for the 1500m race, borrowed a wetsuit and made my way to Dorney Lake for the race.
I found out about the Eton Open Water Swim after speaking to a few members of Tri London at the Crystal Palace Triathlon a few weekends back. It seemed like the perfect segue from pool swimming to open water swimming – without having to worry about transitioning, cycling and running after.
I thought I had prepared myself quite well earlier this week by going for a swim in an open air Lido to test out the wetsuit and get familiar with the cold water… well it definitely didn’t hurt but I was still completely and utterly shocked 100m into the race today.
Shocked by… the cold. the compression. the commotion. and the conditions.
My background in water sports is Rowing — You’re dry, and in a boat and in a lane that is all yours. This experience was the exact opposite — You’re wet, cold, crowded and it is every man for themselves out there!
I knew the start was going to be hectic, but I guess I didn’t prepare myself enough for just how hectic it was. The wetsuit was so tight around my neck, everyone is kicking and swinging their arms trying to get away from the pack and the head wind was fierce.
I totally panicked.
I couldn’t get a breath in. I felt like it was going to be impossible to do the full 1500m at this rate and in all the commotion I just didn’t know how to handle it.
100m in, the shock settled in. I was wheezing for air and kept getting gulps of water instead… I was completely panicked to the point that another swimmer actually asked me if I was OK. I realised then that I must have been a bit mellow-dramatic… so rather than fighting away in the crowds and pretending like this isn’t my first race, I resorted to breast stroke and kept at it for nearly the entire first length; I caught my breath and the commotion around me began to settle down.
At this point – a quarter of the way done – I was thinking to myself that there was going to be no way I’d be able to do the second loop and that I should just quit and go in when I get close to shore.
On the length going back towards shore, we had a beautiful tail wind. I relaxed, the commotion completely died down and I was able to sink into a good (albeit slow) rhythm in free style. I pictured DNF (did not finish) next to my name on the results page and made a deal with myself to finish, even if I do breast stroke the entire way up the headwind straight again.
The second loop wasn’t nearly as bad. I wasn’t panicking and the wind had died down a lot.
Originally, I wanted to finish the course between 32-35 minutes. 100m in, I wanted to quit. 350m in, new goal: just finish. I ended up completing the swim in 38:21.
If I were to do it again (as a beginner) I would…
- Start at the back of the pack and even wait a bit before getting going – avoiding all the commotion.
- In a harsh conditions, just focus on relaxing and feeling the waves. You can’t alway’s predict it but I did notice that by the time I calmed down, I was able to grab better opportunities to take a breath.
- The compression is just something that comes with the territory of swimming in a wetsuit. I obviously should have been in the lido more than just once before jumping into my first mass start.
- If you get a better handle on the above, the cold is just cold… rather than an additional compound of reasons to panic.
Overall this experience was a huge eye opener… I had a false sense of security seeing improvements in the pool. Now let’s see if I can take my own advice next weekend at the Hyde Park Sprint Triathlon where we’ll be swimming in the Serpentine!