Sunday May 17th, 2015
The last time I remember taking part in any sort of swimming race, it was in year five with my old school. I was 10. I won a race of one width of the pool, my victory tarnished by nearly losing my shorts in front of my classmates as I got out. After junior school I didn’t push on too much with swimming, despite some fab family holidays including one where I nearly drifted out into the Atlantic Ocean on a lilo. Memories aside, I was about 14 or 15 when I then last got in a pool – so long ago I can’t actually remember when that was or particularly being bothered. Much has since changed. I’m father to my three-year-old twins and they need an example in their daddy to look up to and learn from (and indeed, with). I also got lured into following the World Triathlon Series, inspired by the Brownlee brothers Olympic and WTS success and thought I’d like a go at that. And so at 29, at least 14 years since I last entered the water, I finally dipped my toe in and unsurprisingly found I had all but lost any real technique, other than a front crawl that means I tend to propel myself through the water at one speed before tiring out and needing a breather before swimming back. I was realistic that triathlon was a long term goal, but I seem to have been having too much fun on my running adventures to really commit myself to multisport.
On my first day back at work following the Greater Manchester Marathon, I noticed British Triathlon tweeting about Go Tri, an initiative run by Triathlon England to get people into the sport, running small-scale tryout events, just to get a feel for it. This was interesting. So I had a quick search and found my local one – the Yorkshire Aquathlon. 100 meters of swimming, 1200 metres of running. Even as poor a swimmer as I am, I felt capable of doing at least that in the water, even with rests. And the date? May 17th. Perfect! Smack bang 4 weeks after the marathon, recently back in a training routine, I had no reason not to – I could swim as part of my recovery and with no other races booked, lend my focus to this event exclusively. And only a fiver. £5. No need for an expensive bike, just me, my goggles (a recent purchase), and a bit of willpower. Debit card details entered, click…and you’re in! A bargain for a sport that, depending how it went, I might not even take it up.
I tried as much as I could in the weeks building to the event to get some swimming done, but I still couldn’t get beyond 25 metres and a rest. The goggles have certainly boosted my confidence a little just by encouraging me to hold my nose as I push off for the first few metres, but there’s been no discernable improvement in my technique, save for keeping my head a little more still in the water. Still, the day arrived and I wasn’t going to back down now.
I arrived fairly early at The Edge, Leeds University’s state-of-the-art gym, sport and pool complex, with the sight of hundreds of youngsters from the Leeds-Bradford Junior Aquathlon still completing their race. The place was full of these young competitors and their families, club mates, etc. There was nothing more reaffirming about what I was walking into with the sight of tri-suits, worn by the really serious and committed triathletes taking part. It was incredible to see.
I was quite early for registration and there were only a handful of names on the sheet. My name was on the top, giving me the previously unheld distinction of wearing the #1 on my arm and above my ankle. Well, well, at least I’ll start as a #1, of sorts.
I got changed into my swim shorts and my race t-shirt, and went back outside to watch more of the action and to get my warm-up done. Then it was back inside for the race briefing, into the changing rooms and towards the transition area. By now I’d put on my new Go Tri swim cap, for which my thick hair felt like a burden, and taken off my shirt. Outside I went, leaving my towel on the floor, with my shoes – the green Salomons with the Quicklace – socks, and glasses readily prepared. We were free to choose any lane due to the low turnout – seven, in the end – and so I went for the end lane furthest away. A definite reassurance should I get into any difficulty.
Starting in the water, the goggles were on, and I felt calm, if not quite relaxed. I was just focused on myself and my race and not looking to keep up. The race organiser counted down – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and with the whistle, the event began. I held my nose and kicked the first few metres underwater – a technique I’ve recently devised with the goggles as I’ve not yet got the hang of holding my breath unassisted underwater. I began with my front crawl and I got down to the end at a reasonable pace. To my surprise, I felt good to turn around, and without really thinking, I only gave myself a few seconds before heading off to the other end. I was starting to tire already, but I made it to 50 meters and in good time. Now though I needed a breather. Again, I didn’t leave it too long, and I set off down the other end again. About halfway, I had to stop – I had an issue with water getting into my goggles. Assuring the lifeguard I was OK, I carried on and got to 75 metres. I steadied myself. This was my longest break yet, but within a minute I was off again. My technique was starting to wobble, as it tends to do when I tire, but I kept going. I didn’t reach for the side or stand up on the surface. I got to the end and climbed out. I was last but that didn’t matter. I’d just done the hard bit. Now for transition!
I made a slight pig’s ear of it by bringing socks – I obviously had trouble getting them on and I lost a couple of seconds with my t-shirt as well. I ran sockless in my shoes, which went on comfortably, and I began to run. I was beginning to catch up with the others around 200 metres onwards, but I didn’t quite have it in me to go flat out just yet. The first 600 metre lap of the campus went well though, and I’d gained position. I now felt ready to push it on the second lap and despite stumbling on a grassy section, and I finished strongly, giving a self-congratulatory fist in the air. I did it! I completed an aquathlon!
As the remaining competitors came over the line we all received a medal – which was slightly unexpected – and told we’d get our results in an e-mail. We walked back to the changing rooms talking about our race and then that was it. It was over. I was changed, off to Barburrito and on my way home for 7pm. Despite beating this hasty retreat, I knew there wasn’t going to be a great deal of fanfare and this was exactly what I expected. This was a personal challenge for myself and indeed for the others as well, and really that’s what Go Tri is about. Where I finished (third, if you must know) isn’t a big deal. Finishing is. To get myself in the water for something like this is way out of my comfort zone and in its on way as hard as preparing for the marathon. Mentally, at least.
This has done wonders for my confidence, because now I’m more determined than ever to get my swimming lessons booked and completed so I can become adept in the water. I really need to crack on with borrowing a bike to get back into the swing of things – and I can if I can just find space in my house. I’m still a few years off triathlon, at least, and so I’ve got to keep the realism in the long-term nature of this goal. In the meantime, aquathlon seems a reasonable option if they come around, and if Go Tri come back around to this part of England anytime soon I’ll probably sign up again just as a measure of my progress if anything else. Far from panicking in the water, I remained composed and all in all I found this a lot of fun!
I wish to thank Ben, the organiser of this event at Leeds University, and the Go Tri team for their support and encouragement in the build-up and on the day. They ran a well organised event, within superb facilities and it was the perfect distance for triathlon newbies to come and have a go.
Please check out Go Tri online if you’re interested as they have events around the country that you can get involved in if you fancy a kind welcome to triathlon. They’re also looking for venues to hold small scale aquathlons, duathlons and indeed triathlons to get more people involved in this growing sport.
This was indeed a fun and incredible day for myself. Now the hard work begins!