Learning to sink AND swim. Not necessarily in that order
I was down by Coniston Water early one cold morning last October, out for a walk with my dog. I spotted what looked like a canoe coming out from the mist, and I went to investigate further. I could only see the paddles through the mist as they splashed one, then the other, but something wasn’t quite right. As it got closer I realised it wasn’t a canoe at all, but a swimmer using enormous swim paddles. Why would you do that, I thought? As I got down to the shore there were a couple of marshalls and I asked them what was going on. Swim run was the answer, the new sport I’d heard a little bit about but never seen. Having just got back from a major triathlon event I was looking for a new challenge and this seemed like fun so I stayed and watched for a while, then followed some of the runners. I couldn’t get over how much everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I’m not saying they weren’t trying but there was none of the “desperation” I tend to feel when I’m racing tri. I spoke to some of the competitors at a checkpoint and the focus was on the adventure and the camaraderie rather than just speed and times. Added to that, the checkpoint was stocked with a great range of cakes - this was my kind of event!
I entered Breca Buttermere, having recruited 3 of my triathlon club mates, and we started to discover more about this sport. “Yes, you swim in your trainers and run in your wetsuit” I explained to my long-suffering wife. “Why?” was her innocent response. Well, that took some explaining but I think she was just glad I was having a year off triathlon so she was happy with that. After all, she had been my support team through a lot of good and bad events so I guess a change felt as good as a rest.
All I had to do was figure out how to train for this. I’m a triathlon coach and a swim teacher, so the swim and the run in themselves weren’t an issue, but the combination was unfamiliar. Through the winter I trained pretty much as I would for triathlon, but I reduced the bike training and increased the swim element. I also did a few recce runs along the course and then ran the Derwent Dawdle which shares a lot of the course. The real tester though, was going to be how I would be able to cope with the fundamental “swim in your trainers, run in your wetsuit” aspect.
As soon as May came round I went to my local open water venue and gave it a try. My first outing was interesting, mainly for the curious gazes of the other swimmers as I went round with my trainers on and some paddles. A friend said I went past him and he thought it was someone who’d forgotten to take their trainers off! As I tried to get out of the water I fell back, dizzy from the swim. I normally wear ear plugs which prevents this, but I decided that I couldn’t be taking earplugs in and out all day on a swim run so left them. I staggered out of the water and ran off causing much amusement amongst the regulars. The dizziness wore off, but not before I had narrowly avoided falling into the ditch at the side of the road. A passing runner asked me if I was alright, and stayed with me. I had to explain to him what a swim run was, by which time I was recovered enough for him to leave me. As I ran through the estate a woman walking her dog stopped in her tracks and just stared at me. Not surprising really, as I was running through a housing estate on a Sunday afternoon wearing a rubber suit with a large piece of sponge strapped to my leg and carrying goggles, a rubber hat and two hand-shaped pieces of plastic! I was also making a loud sloshing sound, with all the water that was trapped everywhere.
I carried on, wishing I’d brought an explanatory note to hand out to everyone I ran past, and back to the lake where I ran straight in, to the astonishment of some swimmers getting ready and taking off their flip-flops. I forgot to put on my goggles and paddles, so had to immediately roll over onto my back and sort that lot out. I discovered how difficult it is to work out which is the left paddle and which is right one while you’re floating in a lake, and I’ve now written “L” and “R” in big letters on the paddles. When I’m at the triathlon club swim nights at the pool they wonder why I’m so stupid that I need that sort of clue, but they don’t understand. Bless them, they are only triathletes! As I finally got going my goggles steamed up so much with the heat from the run that I couldn’t see where I was going so zig-zagged my way to the first buoy before they cleared. More anti-fog next time. I repeated this 4 times, each time staggering out of the water, each time running the gauntlet of the estate locals. I was so hot (I had my full wetsuit on as I hadn’t yet got a swim-run one) I was bright red in the face, but happy that I had done this much. Afterwards, I worked out that I had done the equivalent of about 10% of the Breca course, and I have reluctantly switched to the sprint version. I don’t regard this as a defeat, just a decision that pays proper respect to a very tough event.
- 29th July 2019