In da club and swimming training

On the back of joining the  Freedom Tri club after last weekends Greenway Challenge, I was keen to get into the open water for a swim, as a couple of races will soon be upon me which feature an open water swim leg.

There are a couple of prerequisites for open water swimming sessions with the club – being a member of the British Triathlon Federation for insurance purposes (there are other benefits from joining, e.g. discounts for race entry fees, etc), and also attending an induction swim session in the pool, to make sure you can swim to a sufficient standard.

The club training session is at a pool in Letchworth on a Friday night.  I’m normally done in on a Friday night from work and the weeks training – the routine is normally dinner at 6pm, collect our son Ewan from youth club at 7:30pm, then in pyjamas and snooze on the sofa until bed time.

Not this week though,the swimming session starts at 8pm, so as I don’t really know where I’m going, I set off at 7:30pm towards the pool.  I’m there within a couple of minutes, and sat outside for ages twiddling my thumbs.  I mooched off into the pool reception, where I was greeted by lots of friendly faces of the triathlon club.  It was quite weird – although I had introduced myself to the club via the clubs forum, it was weird people knowing who I was that I’d never met before.

I handed over a couple of bits of paperwork, BTF membership details and open water indemnity waiver form, and was presented with something I’ve never owned of worn before – a swimming cap!  In lime green!  Look at this bad boy!

Swimming cap

Swimming cap

It’s awesome!  It matches my lime green Crocs perfectly!  After  a quick change into my swimming shorts, and caps on, we hit the water.  Swimming is a bit like sensory deprivation for me – I do have prescription goggles, but they’re not great, and I have a history of ear problems, so I have to wear ear plugs, so I’m pretty much blind and deaf in and around the water.  It does make taking direction and coaching a challenge.

We did some warm up lengths, than it all got a bit weird and confusing.  Drills and pull buoys were involved – a floaty thing between the knees.  Terms like “catch”, “body roll”, “bilateral”, and “progression” were being thrown around.  I didn’t really follow, and I did need telling a few things twice, but I did get it in the end.

I have been swimming every week for a good few months now, and thought I was doing OK.  But trying to do something different, something proper, made me realise that I wasn’t a very good swimmer at all – yes, I could swim a mile in 43 minutes, but badly and inefficiently.  I do now think that with a bit of practice of the techniques, and drills,  it will make me a stronger, more technical, more efficient and ultimately, a quicker swimmer.

I did drink a fair bit of the pool – trying to force myself to do something different did mess with my breathing – it felt very unnatural!  I also suffered from cramp while I was in the pool with the club, which I did manage to just about swim through.  I did pick up a useful tip after the session – electrolytes help with cramp.  I had self diagnosed that it was dehydration that caused my cramp, but seemingly not. I picked up a packet of electrolyte tablets on the way home from the pool, so will do some experimenting.

The pool session was wrapped up with some more progression drills, and then it was time for the off.

All in all, it was a very useful session.  It was great to meet some of the Freedom Tri team – they seem like a very friendly and inclusive bunch.  I passed the induction, so was given the green light to take part in the open water swimming session this morning.

I had to go to the supermarket to pick up a couple of bits, so got back home at about 10pm.  An early night would probably have been an idea, but didn’t end up going to bed until about 12:30.  I had to set the alarm for 6am, so was going to get 5 and a half hours sleep at most.

I thought I best try on the wetsuit again, just to make sure that it hadn’t shrunk.  Thankfully it hadn’t shrunk, and I hadn’t grown since buying the wetsuit on a whim and in a sale last September.



It seems that everything to do with triathlon is early morning – I don’t know if triathletes have a history of insomnia, but it certainly seems so!

I was up at 6am, and it looked like a bright day.  I looked out at the car, and really hoped that the layer of white moisture on it was dew rather than frost.  I forced down a banana and a cereal bar, and washed it down with a pint of electrolyte drink.

I grabbed my never been wet wetsuit, and headed for the car.  Thankfully it was dew!  I squeeged it off, and off I went.  The thermometer on the car registered 6c, which isn’t really outdoors weather, let alone outdoors swimming weather.

I approached the lake with nervousness and trepidation – 2 emotions that were certainly justified!

I shoehorned myself into my wetsuit, and met up with my new club mates.  We went through a safety briefing, and we were put in groups to swim with, then into the water.  The plan was, swim to the first buoy, about 100m out, then wait to regroup.  Catch breath, then repeat.  There are about 8 buoys in the lake, and the total swim distance is about 850m.  I had in mind that this would be no problem – I’ve swam a mile in the pool a number of times non-stop, and never had an issue with the distance.

First impressions – SWEET BABY JESUS!  It’s cold!  I was warned it would be cold, and was reassured that I would warm up by the second buoy.  I didn’t bank on it being this cold though – I could feel my whole body contract, and within seconds I couldn’t feel my hands or feet.

I got my face in the water and made a few strokes towards the first buoy.  I had real problems breathing – not breathing in, but pushing my breath out while my face was in the water.  It was terrible.  All of a sudden, the lake felt very very big, and very very deep.  I struggled to the first buoy, having to stop to catch my breath a couple of times.

We stopped and regrouped at the first buoy.  After treading water for a short while, we headed off to the second buoy.  I think I must have made about 5 strokes before having to stop.  I limped along to the second buoy, and had probably swam about 200m by this point.  It felt like it had been 200 miles!  I was struggling, panic was starting to set in, and I was ready to chuck it in.  I said to Debz who I was swimming with that I liked the look of the bank.  She gave me some kind and gentle words of encouragement, and I decided I should try and crack on, rather than fail at the first attempt.

The tactic was to try to get between buoys with only one stop.  I don’t think I actually made that goal once.  The breathing was so hard, and finding the rhythm was really difficult too. I did somehow get around the lake, mostly due to the patience and support of Debz and Chris who I was swimming with.

It was tough going.  Really tough.  In fact, it was a hideous and humbling experience.

I didn’t realise how hard swimming would be in the cold water, and I didn’t appreciate how far 100m is in a straight line.  Swimming lengths is so different to swimming in open water.  I think I must steal a breath at the turn in the pool, and pushing off at the turn must propel me through the water a lot too.

I am determined to nail this though.  I have open water triathlons booked and paid for, so I’ve got to.  I’m hoping next time will be easier, and hopefully a few degrees warmer!

Here’s a shot of the training ground, which very almost beat me:

The lake

The lake


Greenway Challenge 2013 Race Report

Hello again!

As some of you may remember, I ran this race last year, a week after my first marathon.  Well today I ran it, a week after my first triathlon!

This is a nice local race for me, organised by the North Herts Road Runners, and covers quite a bit of my training ground – the Letchworth Greenway.

Training for this race has been a bit hit and miss really.  I hadn’t ran over 10k for over a month, so I did feel under trained for the race.  I’ve really taken the foot off the distance after helping my friend Emma out with the London marathon training, I’ve been plodding along with the shorter runs, and been slotting a few cycle sessions into the training plan.

The weather forecast had been great all week – warm and sunny and still, with no chance of rain, and the forecast was bang on!  I woke up early, the it looked like a glorious day in the making.

The race started at 10am, and being nice and local, I got up just before 8am, had a nice breakfast of porridge with a generous dollop of Nutella, and washed it down with some strong black coffee.  I’ve been feeling a bit like I’ve had a cold the last few mornings, and today was no exception – I woke up with a sore throat, and feeling a bit chesty.  I boshed a couple of vitamin C tablets with breakfast, and I left at 9am, and was at race HQ at Standalone farm within a few minutes.

I parked up, and queued to collect my race number – number 014 as I’d registered for the race nice and early.  This is quite a small race – only 300 entrants allowed, and I don’t think it was quite sold out.

Here’s the registration area:



I said “Hello” to a few people, and it was soon time to mooch off to the start line.  I placed myself towards the back of the pack.  I wasn’t going for a PB today – it’s not really that sort of course, so I placed myself quite far back.  It’s multi-terrain, with most of it on trails rather than roads, which makes it a bit slower, and also there are quite a few bits where it slows for going through gates and crossing roads.  The goal for today was just to run the distance, and enjoy the race experience.  I was hoping to beat last years time of 2:08:41,  but not really fussed if I didn’t.

This race is not chip timed, so it’s just based on gun time, but being quite small, it shouldn’t take too long to cross the start from when the klaxon went off – my gun time was only 20s off my own time, so not a lot in it really.

Here’s a pic of the start line:

Start line

Start line

As you can see, a beautiful sunny day.  Even approaching 10am it was already warming up.   I was in shorts and t-shirt, with sunglasses and running cap, and I was warm already.

The start klaxon went off promptly at 10am.  The first mile was mostly down hill, and it took a while for the pack to spread, and to be able to find a bit of space to run at my own pace.  Pretty much bang on the first mile marker, there’s a sharp uphill, which really zaps the energy levels, but thankfully this is followed by a downhill soon after.  After the second mile is the first road crossing – across the busy Norton Road between Stotfold and Letchworth. This was the first time I saw my lovely wife Sam, who’d come out on her bike to see me.  I gave Sam a wave and “Hello”, crossed the road, and cracked on.

The next couple of miles were a bit uppy and downy, and we soon were back on the road for a few minutes. Sam was there on her bike again to cheer me on at around the 4 mile mark.  A bit of support does make a huge difference, and is greatly appreciated!

By this time I’d got chatting to a nice chap called Richard.  He’s a well experienced triathlete, so we had a good chat about our experiences of running, and me dipping my toes into the world of triathlon.  He managed to convince me to join the Freedom Tri club, something which I’ve been considering for a while now.  I do think it’ll help me out to mix with other people who are into triathlon – I’m hoping it’ll make it all a bit less of a mystery!

The first water station was at about 5 and a bit miles.  Even though I do carry water, I stopped to neck a cup, and poured one into my bottle.  It was hot enough to think about taking on a bit more water.

Here’s an action shot, shamelessly lifted of the NHRR Flickr feed:



This is a rare photo of me that doesn’t look like I’m walking – you can clearly see air beneath BOTH my feet!

I saw Sam on her bike again at the 10k marker, which was where we crossed Letchworth Gate.  We almost had to stop for traffic at this point, but were lucky (unlucky?) with the lights, so got straight across the road.  We were generally very lucky with the traffic – I did have to slow a couple of times, and slow to get though gates, but I wasn’t stood still for long at any of them.

The sun was really beating down by the half way mark – just about 11am, and it as warming up.  A nice day to be in the garden with a pint of something cold, but not great for running.  I have no idea how people in hotter climates manage!

I took an energy gel at about mile 8, and was hoping that this would give me a little bit of a boost.  I’m still not convinced of the benefit of a gel on a half marathon, but it certainly didn’t hinder my run.

There was a nice bit of downhill now until about mile 9.  By then, we’d reached the Hitchin leg of the Greenway, where there is a horrible hill, which very almost ended me.  Thankfully I managed to keep up plodding along, but that was the slowest mile I logged at 10:20.

Just after the 10 mile mark, there was another water station, do I did grab another cup, and managed to sip some of it, and spill the rest down myself – I have no idea how people drink from a cup while running without ending up wearing most of it!

There were a few more up and down and wiggly bits, but then we got back onto the tarmac, as the last couple of miles of the race are on road.  I have done a lot more running on road than on trail, so did feel more comfortable on the tarmac.  the last couple of miles were mostly down hill too, which I was very happy about!

The race finishes on the grass inside the grounds of Standalone Farm, and the finishing funnel was a very welcome sight!  Sam and our son Ewan had come out to cheer me on at the finish line.  Here’s a pic of me and my boy:

Me and Ewan

Me and Ewan

You can also see the race souvenir – a very handy water bottle to remember the day.  Also on the finish line there was cake!  The club really pulled out all the stops this year!  Look at this lot!  And it just kept on going!



I ended up coming 150th out of 212 finishers, in a time of 2:06:11.  This is a good bit slower than my personal best, but this isn’t a PB course.  It’s too hilly, too narrow in places, too much slowing for gates and roads, and was also too hot.

It was a great day out though, and I’ll definitely be running it again!