First swim in open water

Big day today as it was my first open water swim session. I was pretty nervous as I’d done a lot of reading on open water swimming and I knew it can be very different to the pool. The flip side was that having done the reading I felt I knew what to expect and had strategies in place to make the most of the session. I’d also been lucky enough to bump into an open water swimming expert at a work event a few days ago, who worked for Triathlon England, and he’d given me quite a few tips.

I did get a curve ball the day before as Steve Crane had agreed to “buddy” me, and had come down with a bad head cold so could not go in the water. He emailed me loads of advice though so I decided to just bite the bullet and go on my own. To be honest I quite like doing new things on my own sometimes as I can do my own thing at my own pace.

I cycled to the lake – Box End Park, wake-boarding facility – at a fairly leisurely pace (4.08 miles in 21:04, av speed 11.6mph). I suspect my brain and body were conspiring to delay the inevitable! I didn’t have the best start as I got there and the shop I was going to hire a wet suit from appeared closed. I thought I was going to have to turn around and go home. But as it turns out, that was the wake-boarding shop. The triathlon place (Tri-Crazy), was round the corner in a little hut. Dave the owner was in there helping another newbie into a wetsuit, with another person waiting. Popular guy. In fact another three came in while I was waiting, this sport is really on the rise. 

Anyway soon it was my turn and Dave fitted me up with a wetsuit. I was surprised at how easy it went on actually, although I suspect it won’t be that easy on my own! Soon, I was all kitted out and headed on my way to the lake. Squeaky bum time. 

I hovered about a bit as I wanted to watch a few other people go in first. But they all seemed to be taking their sweet time about it and I was left looking like I had very temperamental set of googles given how much attention they were getting! The lake was packed (well relatively given it’s a big lake), there must have been 30-40 people swimming round it. It was funny watching them swim in somewhere I have only ever watched people wake-board around. The ramps and the wires were all in place, and these little people were swimming past them in their different coloured caps. 

Anyway I stopped faffing and in I got. Yup – bloody freezing! I took an immediate hit too as I did the acclimatisation techniques I’d read about / been advised – I let a bit of water in at the neck and splashed some on my face to preempt the gasp reflex. I had a little bob around leaning back and forward to get used to the buoyancy and then I was off. I was expecting the first few metres to be tough, having read about anxiety and feelings of wetsuit claustrophobia. However, I remembered to breath out from the first stroke and got into my rhythm straight away. I found it so much easier to swim in the wetsuit with the buoyancy, which implies I probably have low legs in the pool (pull buoy drills needed!) I was actually really enjoying it, with the only issue being a freezing cold face. But that soon warmed up. In fact for the first 1/4 of a length of the lake I also kept pretty straight. That soon stopped though and I began to zig zag around a bit. I was trying to sight using the buoys and the wires, but to be honest I really need to work on that. Not easy!

I was in my stride though, and swimming proper freestyle around a lake! I didn’t find the fact I couldn’t see the bottom as off-putting as I thought and even when I inevitably swallowed a bit of it, the water tasted nicer than pool chlorine!

I was freaked a bit as some people went past and touched my bum (accidentally I presume), but I am going to have to get used to the rough and tumble before I race in June. 

Eventually I reached the landing stage and out I got. 0.62 miles in 21:56. Pretty damn slow, but who cares – I am an open water swimmer now! And to boot, I really, really enjoyed it. It was easier to swim than in a pool (barring my zig zags), and just more fun really. I can see how people get hooked on it. I need loads more practice before I can say I am competent, and lets face it Weymouth Bay in September is going to be a whole different kettle of fish, but its as good a start I could have wished for. 

I got showered and dressed in the excellent facilities at Box End and then took the wetsuit back to Dave. One of the great things he does it hire them out for the season, if you don’t want to leap in and buy just yet. I figured that would be a good idea for a novice triathlete in his first year and I am going to need one for my three races anyway. So I parted company with my £130, and am now the proud temporary owner of a wetsuit 🙂

Really great fun, looking forward to my next swim. You can tell I was in a better mood as was much quicker on the way home – 3.88 miles (quicker round the one way system going back) in 16:17, av speed 15.1mph). 

Iron Run Cranford, 2015: Race Report

For those who are not keen on OCR (obstacle course races), don’t switch off just yet; there’s more to this event than monkey bars (of which there were thankfully none). 
The Iron Run Cranford (nr Kettering) is a relative newcomer to the OCR scene, having had it’s inaugural race in 2014. Following in the footsteps of Tough Mudder, Wolf Run, X Runner, et al, it stacks up pretty well in my opinion (as a course – more on the organisation later). There is a 12k or 6k option and two of the waves are chip timed so add a bit of competitiveness. 
I went in the second of the chipped waves, the last one of the day. The first chipped wave was billed as the Elite Wave, so I thought I’d steer clear of that one, being a middle of the pack runner.  I’d entered the event as a bit of light relief to be honest; the early part of 2015 being dominated by long distances and the current focus being on getting ready for my first olympic distance triathlon in June. I’ve done a few of these OCRs over the years and I do enjoy the physical challenge and not worrying about a time. 
What I particularly liked about this course was that, bacause of the distance, there were some good stretches of pure trail running (handy for an upper body weed like me), and the obstacles in the main were created using the landscape, rather than constructing them out of wood or metal. 
I arrived about 45 mins before my wave start; entry wasn’t cheap and the extra £3 for parking did irk a bit, but I guess these events are quite expensive to put on. The registration process was “relaxed”, rather than efficient, but everyone was very friendly. I did worry slightly when after having been given my number pack, I only got my foot chip because I went back to get it, having realised I was the only competitor without one!
There were about 40-50 people in my wave, which was quite nice as some of the more well-known events can be dominated by big packs of muscle boys. I did notice that nearly everyone was in a pair or a group – I think only me and one other bloke were single runners. There was the obligatory group warm up that you get at these things (two burly, highly toned military fitness types). They mistakenly thought they could get me to do pressups – the fools. 
As soon as the warm up was over, we were off. Slightly underwhelming start, but nevertheless we were let loose. I was pretty near the front at the start and noticed straight away that the pace of the running was well within my capabilities. After about a quarter of a kilometre I was running behind the lead guy – somewhat predictably the other singleton. What I began to realise was that many of the groups would be running together to support each other round and the others were very much on the ‘muscle body, there for the big obstacles’ end of the spectrum. Although I wouldn’t be the fastest on the obstacles I more than enough had the legs to outrun most of them, especially given the type of offroad training I tend to do for events like the Grizzly. Indeed I’d recommend this event to any of my fellow Bedford Harriers who enjoy cross county – think of it as XC extreme!
Anyway after about a kilometre of fields and forest running I was running in third. Both guys in front of me clearly had much more upper body strength than me and so had been able to haul themselves quicker from the ditches we’d had to negotiate. We came out of a tricky technical forest section and ahead was about half a kilometre of muddy track. I could see the guy in second place was not a particularly strong runner (and weirdly was wearing what looked like football boots), so I figured if I was to get around him, now was the moment. So I put a spurt on and was soon about 10 metres behind the lead runner. I settled in there as to be honest I didn’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have someone to chase – I have never been this high up a field in an event!!
About 3k in we had to wade through a swamp about 2 feet deep, which went on for quite some time. The guy in first place was about half a foot shorter than me so I made some ground on him at this point! However that soon ended as the next obstacle was a steep 20 foot bank that required you to haul up a rope – damn my weedy biceps!
This went on for the next couple of kilometres as I got closer on the runs and then left behind at obstacles, expecially those requiring me to haul myself over. Just after some fun fire pits and multiple bogs we hit a water station together at 5k. We both stopped for a drink but for some reason the other guy lingered. So off I went in the lead, kind of without trying. I wasn’t happy as the idea of him snapping at my heels was a bit too much pressure. So I decided my only tactic would be to try and get some distance between us and see if I could break the invisible elastic band. The next half a kilometre was typical “Grizzly” terrain – up and down, up and down, interspersed by flat, bumpy trails. Mentally I thought that given I know I could do this for 20 miles, then a few kilometres wouldn’t hurt, so I pushed on. 
The tactic worked, I looked back at a section where we doubled back a lot on ourselves up and down a hillside and I couldn’t see my pursuer. So – new experience for me, leading a race! Mind my heart sank a little as this was the point where the rear of the pack competitors from the previous wave started to be overtaken. And as we got to one of the big obstacles of the day – 30 feet slide into a bog – there was a huge queue. I can be a bit competitive though (even if I’m a bit of an average runner), so I asked the marshal if I had to wait given I was leading the next wave (there were easily 20 people in the queue). To my big surprise he said – no of course not mate, just go to the front! I felt a bit bad, but off I went and wooshed down the slide (loads of fun, can I do it again please?)
The next big section was a choice – a long run round a lake, or swim right across? Well, my triathlon training must count for something right?! In I plunged. Bloody hell it was freezing! I started doing breast stroke like those ahead of me, but I decided to switch to freestyle, which was much quicker and out I climbed a minute or so later. 
This was about half way round the course and to be honest much of the rest of the course was just more of the same really. Loads of bogs, streams, inclines and the odd wooden obstacle to navigate. Whoever designed this course must be a sadist – one memorable section involved going up and down the sides of a gully about 8 times, so steep it needed ropes. Knackering. 
I had no idea how far in the lead I was so I kept the pace up when I could. I was really enjoying it. The final kilometre involved a lot of time in a stream as we came back into the Cranford Hall grounds. In fact we had to wade down the stream at thigh height for most of it. 
I threw myself over the 6 foot wall at the finish line at about 1hr23m (time TBC), with a massive grin on my face. I couldn’t believe I had won something (OK it wasn’t the strongest field of runners, but hey give me this one!) 
Bit of an anticlimax at the end as I collected a “goody” bag that consisted of the obligatory tech t-shirt and a can of energy drink (note to organisers, a goody bag needs a few goodies in it), and had to ask what happens next. The woman taking my chip was a bit unsure and said she “thought” they would announce the winners in a bit and there “probably” was a trophy. As I said before – it’s not that the organisation was poor, it just seemed a bit laissez-faire. Anyway I hung about for about 30 mins, had a cup of tea and put some warm clothes on, but there was no sign of any announcement or awards. I did pop my head round the timing tent and they said the results would be posted later in the day (I am writing this 24 hours later, still no news). They did say that they thought I was 33rd overall (including the previous Elite Wave).
So, a bit cold and a little let down, I went back to my car to drive home. I’m still hopeful of finding out my time and maybe even get the trophy for my wave; I have emailed the organisers. I know it doesn’t sound much, but I never win anything at events as I tend to be competing against much faster runners than me, so it was quite a novel experience for me – I just wish it hadn’t been a bit of a fizzle out.
My summary? Fantastic course, loads of running in between obstacles, great for trail / XC runners looking for something a bit different. I am very battered and bruised today, but I do smile when I think back to yesterday. Just tinged with a bit of annoyance at the poor organisation in the end. I hope they sort that out, as it’s a great event and I’d certainly think about doing it again.