‘Countdown to Rio – 497 days’ was the unexpected sign that greeted me at my local pool on Sunday. Surely intended to instill motivation and inspiration to the pro swimmers that frequent the Manchester Aquatics Centre, to me it screamed, ‘YOU DON’T BELONG HERE CRANDON!’. Still, I was pool side by this point; too far gone to back out now.
Having spent three weeks dutifully heading to the pool alone to try and remind myself how to front crawl, I was told about a local swimming group who offer coaching sessions. I knew I was in need of some tips and help from someone in the know and was looking forward to rounding off my weekend with a Sunday night swim. Despite the unnerving Olympic countdown, it wasn’t as scary as I thought. Put in a newbies group, I had lots of fun doing all different types of swimming strokes including an attempt at one armed butterfly – thankfully not a requirement in the forthcoming London triathlon – as well as various team relays. On my cycle home (is this a brick session then?!), I realised I’d swum way more than I had when swimming alone, and tried out lots of new techniques. So, all in all, a very minor swimming success.
Having fun in the pool was all well and good, but how would I fare in the open water? I was keen, and anxious, to find out. Although I’d once swam in Hampstead Heath on a hot summers day, this was something totally new. I wasn’t sure what I was more scared of: the wetsuit or the freezing temperatures of the water in Salford Quays. I spent my lunch break reading up on the open water section in ‘Tricurious‘ and tried to remember the tips for getting into my wetsuit like a pro. It turns out, these were a success. I slathered my wrists and neck with baby oil to prevent rubbing and popped a plastic bag over my arms and feet to get the wetsuit on with ease. Thankfully, I had my friend Sheila with me to show me the ways of the open water and I was glad to have her there to chat to whilst we swam. Like running, I’m learning that swimming is way more fun with friends.
Pre-dip - nervous anticipation
The temperature outside was cold, little waves were lapping in the quays, and there was a breeze in the air. The sky was a greyish blue and the walk to the quays was cold enough without being in the actual water. But I knew I had to get on with it. For about 5 minutes, my face was one of shock as I ducked into the cold water and filled my wetsuit with water before pressing it out again (*proud Tricurious student face*). My arms and feet were pretty numb and I had a little brain freeze, but I soon forgot about these. What I noticed more than anything was the fun that I was having.
I must admit, I mostly did breaststroke while I got used to my new environment, and having Sheila there to laugh with when we got freaked out by the ‘things’ in the water (possibly a leaf, possibly a pre-historic creature) made it all the more enjoyable. We did a short lap of 300m followed by the longer course of 500m, and I changed between front crawl and breaststroke as much as I could.
Open water - DONE!
Finally taking the, literal, plunge has put my fears of being in the open water to rest. How would I cope in a wetsuit? Would I freeze in the cold? Would I be able to actually swim with that distance? Would I need to be rescued? These were all genuine concerns. I wasn’t at all fast, the other triathletes have nothing to worry about here, but I did it and I loved it. As my wise friend Sheila said, “it’s nice to do something ‘real': not be in a boring gym or running a treadmill, but outside in the elements reallydoingsomething” and she’s right. I’m looking forward to going back next week.
This post first appeared on the team Tricurious blog - where you can follow the journeys of my team mates, as we venture into the world of triathlon.
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