Category Archives: swimming

My next challenge

I’d told myself I’d take a week of rest and relaxation after Castle Howard. The reality though was that I was left with a greater drive to push on. Having put myself under so much pressure to be able to participate in the triathlon it was a relief to come through relatively unscathed. The relief was soon overtaken by the desire to evaluate performance, why did the swim go so wrong? Where could I have made time up? When is the next challenge.


Thankfully the next challenge has been booked for some time. The Great Scottish SwimRun, 800m swim followed by a 5km run. My two weakest disciplines in the triathlon? Swim and Run. My biggest disappointment last week was my inability to overcome the fear during the swim, so to face a swim twice the distance in unknown waters in just 23 days is both petrifying and exciting(ish). 


I’m still trying to focus on my journey and my progress and achievements. I’m fully aware that for many an 800m swim is barely more than a warm up but this is the point that I’m at with my journey. I remember the days of learning to get my face in the water, the days where 2 lengths of a 25m pool was a challenge, my first terrifying attempt at open water swimming. I’ve put in the hours of hard work, tears, tantrums and failures to get to the point of looking at an 800m open water swim. Just over three months ago there’s an entry in my training diary referring to a failed attempt at a 25m swim. It’s been a rough journey so far with so much more to come. How do I feel about the 5km run? Well let’s think about that if I survive the swim. I’m excited and anxious to discover what part the Great Scottish SwimRun will play. 


In terms of personal journey this week has been great for reflecting on how far I’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, being one of the last out of the water and being overtaken by all ages on the bike and run isn’t great for the ego but you can’t judge without knowing individuals journeys. My journey in the last four months from open hysterectomy to triathlete has been a mega rollercoaster, it still is. I feel like I’m chasing my own expectations, expectations that are probably unrealistic, and expectations that are constantly changing. Less and less I’m looking at the performances of those around me, but rather focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. This new mindset isn’t always easy to maintain, the competition is now me rather than others. Will this mindset help get me through not only the SwimRun but also my second triathlon? Well there’s only one way to find out. 

It’s the journey that counts.

Training for a triathlon while recovering from major abdominal surgery probably isn’t a recommended combination but that’s the challenge I’d set. I had 17 weeks, just under 4 months, from knife to skin until the start of the triathlon. It was a journey with a ready made excuse to take the easy path, to accept failure. There were days when I felt like sitting there and crying, giving up and letting the recovery process take it’s time. There were days when frustration boiled over to anger, days feeling lost, scared tired and in pain, taking one step at a time the start line was in sight.

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Arriving at the venue the nerves were bubbling, looking around everyone looked so fit, I felt like an outsider invading an unknown land where neoprene and lycra were the dress code. In transition people chatted about previous conquests while I worried about where to put my trainers. Wet suit on and the long trek to the lake for the safety briefing. The lake was taunting me like a Dementos from Harry Potter. “Don’t panic, take time to acclimatise and you’ll be fine” I keep telling myself. Suddenly the safety briefing was over, I had no idea what had been said. Into the water, 30 seconds until the race starts. WAIT!! What about acclimatising? I’m not ready. The weeds were everywhere, my head is going crazy, the weeds will pull me down, we haven’t even started yet and I’m not sure I ca go much further.

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The horn goes. Head down, stroke and breathe, No, PANIC! My legs feel like they’re tangled, my hands come out holding green slime. There’s nothing I can do, coordination and rational thinking has long gone. I’ve not felt this scared since my first open water swim. I’m not even 50m into the swim, there’s still 350m to go. Becky stayed with me talking me through each stroke, reaching the turnaround point things were looking up. I was swimming towards the exit, the weeds were virtually gone, I was doing it, I was swimming. Not soon enough the swim was over, a short 300m up hill jog to transition added an extra dimension to the transition.

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Transition one was a success, the coconut oil helped me escape my new speedo wetsuit (note to anyone wanting to try OW swimming, an actual swim wetsuit makes a huge difference).Wet suit off, top, race belt, shorts trainers and helmet on I un-racked my bike and I was off, careful not to mount my mean machine until after the white line. Having visited the area recently I knew the first couple of kilometres were nice climbs, what I hadn’t figured was the amount of energy wasted from panicking in the water. As the ride progressed my lower abdomen ached and twinged, almost as if it was reminding me of the journey we had been through. I was enjoying the challenge, the views were great and the kilometres were flying by. I was overtaken by the full age range of people, kids and veterans alike powered past me as I battled through the course. At first this frustrated me, then I smiled, sat up looked at the views, smelt the lavender and reminded myself of how far I’d come. Before I knew it I was dismounting and making my way through Transition.

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Transition 2 was over in a flash, I smiled knowing I only had 4km between me and the finish line. The first kilometre was completed in a PB time of 5:45, probably too fast but my legs felt great (thanks Ironholgs for introducing me to brick sessions in his books) and the ground was firm and flat. As we entered the wooded portion the ground worsened, the rain had taken it’s toll, it was largely up hill making the next 2 kilometres nothing short of an energy sapping muddy trail run. Progress slowed but with every step we were a step closer to the finish line. As we passed the 1km to go sign we noticed the mother in law just 500m back, the decision was easy, we waited for her and crossed the line together.

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I felt a little emotional crossing the line. The journey to this point has been tough, an emotional rollercoaster mirrored somewhat by the triathlon. The physical journey has been witnessed, it’s easy to see the progress from the first walk to the day room (20m) that exhausted me, the first pilates class through to finishing Castle Howard super Sprint. What’s not easy to see is the psychological journey, the fear of not doing enough, of doing too much, the frustrations of slow progress and watching others doing so much more. There have been times when I have been way too hard on myself and those around me, even crossing the finish line I wondered if I could have gone quicker, but for now I can smile, I finished my first triathlon, I pushed through fear, pain, the ups and the downs and I crossed the line holding the hands of those I love and care for. How can I not be content with that.

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Swim, cycle, run, sulk

As I write this I’m laid sulking on the sofa battling the after effects of a hill focused training ride. Whether it was the potholes, the hills or the overall training load of this week catching up with me my abdomen is screaming at me to rest. This is not how I imagined I’d be feeling 5 days out from my first triathlon. As frustrating as this feeling is I have to remember I’m still recovering, I’m little over 3 months post op and even a sprint distance tri is a big ask at this stage. 


My focus needs to change, it should be on finishing the challenge and a personal journey not on racing others. I’d love to take the credit for this change but in reality it came from a vomit infested pool that led to a chance meeting with an Ironman competitor while waiting for pool tests to give the green light to enter the pool. He had just got back from completing Challenge Roth despite falling ill early on the bike section. Our conversation didn’t focus on him but rather a chance encounter he had had with an older lady at an event in South America.  Long story short this lady had told him that it was all about focusing on yourself and that anything really was possible. As he recited the story I could feel the goosebumps on my arms, I felt on top of the world ready to take on any challenge. As inspiring as this was, it was also a reality check. I’ve spent too much time comparing myself to others (namely my wife and mother in-law) rather than focusing on my own journey. Thank you Mark for the lesson (pretty sure my wife has been trying to say this for a while but who listens to their wife?). I’m pretty sure the 5 minutes I spent on pool side listening to tales of triumph has had a huge impact on me and my journey.


Training wise I actually enjoyed an open water swim, the day had started with tears and tantrums as my fear of water raised its ugly head but ended with a steady 1.3km solo swim. On dry land I’ve broken my race-distance (4km) PB by 3 minutes and seen a marked improvement in my cycle times. The training is paying off, I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Days like today are a stark reminder of what my body has been through. Am I fit? Am o good to go? Not at all, I’m still early in this journey but it’s exciting to see where this path leads.

My wife is fitter than me – When did that happen?

Reality hit home this week, my wife is fitter than me! When did that happen? Now before I go on let me just say I am immensely proud of the work she has put in. In the last 8 months she has lost 4 stone and turned around her health and fitness habits. I love the change in her and the happiness it’s brought. It’s also amazing to share the enjoyment of fitness with her rather than feel guilty about leaving her to train. The reality remains though. As I’ve battled with il health and recovery my fitness has dropped as hers has increased to a point I can only aim for. Great for her, not so great for me! It’s a reminder of the last year, it’s proof of the progress I’ve made since surgery, but also demonstrates how much can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.


The circumstances surrounding this realisation was a simple post-swim run. As we transitioned from our wetsuit to running gear a nervous anticipation built in the pit of my stomach. Running has been the slowest discipline to improve post-op and I knew Becky had had some recent PB success over 5km. We set off, almost immediately alarm bells rang as the pace picked up and I settled at the back of the group, a position I hate. My watch alerted me to the 1km mark, completed at a pace 30 seconds quicker than my post-op best, my legs, brain and lungs screamed at me to stop, this pace was not sustainable. There was no get out option though, I had to continue. I took a deep breath and continued, counting down to the turn around Mark at 2km I resigned myself to hanging on at the back of the group. Just then Becky informed me we had just over 500m before turning around, looking at my watch that would be 2.5km, since when were we running 5km? Holy S**t could I actually keep up?


 The burning and screaming of various body parts continued far beyond the turn around point. I dropped further off the pace as the enjoyment of the run continued to drain quickly. Suddenly the sign post was in sight 200m and we were finished. A new 5km PB, the run was over and I’d survived. 


The run came at the end of a busy training week. Swimming, cycling and running have all progressed. My biggest achievement was a full solo (I.e. Out of arms reach of Becky) open water swim, my first ever and a full kilometre. Smashed it! Progress is coming, the triathlon is rapidly approaching, doubts are creeping in. Can I complete the challenge and defeat the demons of open water and doubts about fitness? 

swimming forwards but stepping back.

When I was thinking about this weeks blog I thought I would write something profound about lessons learned, or self improvements (who knows these blogs may still come). Mark the 12 week mark with a bang. What has actually appeared on paper is reality, a story of celebration, frustration and stepping back to move forward.

 

I have written before about my relationship with water and battles with open water swimming. This week I took my first tentative steps away from the safety of the pool and into a lake. Walking in with Beck by myside, the cold murky water  filled my wetsuit, my heart rate rose and the arguments bounced around my head. Four hundred metres later and I dared to go solo, each stroke became slightly less nerve racking. Suddenly the realisation hit, I was swimming in a lake, ALONE. Holy S**t I was alone in a lake (ok there was other people around but not actually with me), I could sink and nobody would realise. Stroke, stroke, breath, stroke, stroke, PANIC, stroke, stroke, breath.  400 metres further and I am out of there, wet suit off and I sit down watching the real swimmers continue. Realisation set in, I’d just swam by myself in a lake, an actual lake, and I’d survived. In my world that is grounds for celebration.

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Celebrating achievements is great, as is looking back through my training diary from the last 12 weeks. The frustrations of recovery are still present though. At this stage I feel stuck in a kind of no-mans land. I’m not ill or injured but then I’m not fully fit either. I’m making progress but it seems the progress is coming in every area but my core, and this is holding me back. For the second week running gymnastics seems to have aggravated my abs, this made Pilates tough as every other movement brought uncomfortable twinges or pain. The continued battle between pushing through and listening to my body was ever present as I participated in a class yet felt like an outsider, watching others I had been at a similar level as make it look easy. I have so much to be grateful for, recovery could have been much more complicated and the improvements I’m seeing in my swim, bike and run are reassuring and evidence I’m moving in the right direction. The problem is I know the true mark of recovery from this surgery lies in the core. A lack of core strength/endurance can lead to so many problems and injuries. This knowledge is another reminder that I need to take more time to get this right.

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This week I came to the realisation that I’d miscalculated the number of weeks until the triathlon, oops. Its now just five weeks until the big day. Realising this, I’ve made the conscious decision to take a step back in training. anything that doesn’t directly benefit either my core or the triathlon is taking a backseat. That means gymnastics, zuu and body pump are on hold, at least for the next few weeks. A frustrating call to make and one that feels like a huge step backwards, but a step back may just be necessary to move me forwards.

I may be slow but I’m Tri-ing

Another week down and we’re now 7 weeks from my first ever triathlon (that wasn’t scary until I wrote it down). Having been down for much of last week I was determined to try and have a more positive week. Being back at work proved to be a challenge that I wasn’t 100% ready for, and balancing that with training was a challenge I hadn’t fully prepared myself for, resulting in a shorter than planned working week (3 days rather than 5) and a couple of missed training sessions. Physically I am still getting tired much quicker than I used to, my body seems to need more rest than normal and energy levels fluctuate. The signs of overdoing things have reared their ugly heads on more than one occasion offering a reminder that overdoing it is still a very real risk.

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I would love to be back to “normal”, back to 100% physical and mental fitness, from what I’ve read it can take up to six months or more to be fully recovered. For now though I’m proud of my journey. I’m learning to listen to my body, developing the mental strength to take a step back or day off training (ok I may still sulk at this), these are huge steps forward from my previous Gung Ho stubborn mentality.

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Mentally I’ve been in a better place. I still feel like I’ve got work to do on the mental side of recovery, and I’m aware that I’m not as strong or mentally resilient as I was, but just recognising these is progress. Now is the time to continue working on strategies and push forward with actions. The first action is taking the time to relax and think, that sounds stupid, I’ve just had 2 months of relaxing and opportunities to think, if only I’d realised the importance of this earlier.

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Physically progress has really slowed, I knew this was coming having made good progress initially. My scar is finally healing having spent the last couple of weeks kicking out the internal stitches. Movement patterns are coming back and everything is starting to feel more natural albeit slower. I’m enjoying being back training and having to do less regressions. I’m almost at the end of my “endurance” (read “get back to doing stuff”) phase. I’m comfortably back swimming, I’m regularly cycling and am seeing progress in both disciplines. Run wise my 4Km time is currently slower than my previous 5km time was and my run training seems to be stuck in a rut. Progress is hard work and slow, it’s mentally draining seeing the data come back and show little to no progress. I’m really having to concentrate and remind myself I’ve not been able to run properly for well over six months and have only reintroduced it in the last month. Any progress is good progress!

The triathlon seems to be creeping up quickly, 7 weeks isn’t a lot of time. I know that just finishing it will be a huge achievement but more and more it’s an achievement that actually feels possible.

NHS courtesy calls and what’s next?

Eight weeks ago I had a six inch vertical cut made in my lower abdomen and the vast majority of my reproductive system removed along with a large fibroid. This week I had my first post-op contact with the gynae team at St James. No there was no anxious waiting in a busy waiting room, no examination of the incision site, no shaking hands with the surgical team, in fact there was no face to face contact.  What I received was a “courtesy call” (their actual words), now in my experience a courtesy call is what you receive after making a purchase or hired a car, never have I associated “courtesy calls” with major surgery (Surgery serious enough to have strict protocols including lifting nothing heavier than a kettle for 6 weeks). What made the “courtesy call” even more unbelievable was that the sister making the call had no idea whether I’d had key hole, bikini line or vertical incision. I was left trying to describe the blister like area of my incision (perhaps if the courtesy call is the way to go they could introduce the use of WhatsApp for such an occasion), a challenge the sister could only respond to by instructing me to go and see my GP. I feel lucky that, blood clot aside, I’ve had a relatively straight forward recovery which I attribute to preparing myself physically and mentally both for the surgery and the recovery.

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It’s fair to say that between the cancelled surgeries cancelled surgeries and minimalistic follow up care (I was also left waiting on the line while she fought with the system to find my histology results.) I’ve been less than impressed with the NHS. I really feel for the clinical staff who quite clearly are frustrated at having to deliver a first class level of care on a third string budget and support system. NHS aside I’m now 8 weeks post-op and getting back to more and more “normal activities” everyday, the countdown to my first post-op fitness challenge is on.

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It’s now just 9 weeks until I take on my first ever triathlon. It may only be a Super sprint (Castle triathlon series, Castle Howard), 400 m swim, 20(ish) km bike and 4 km run (or something along those lines) but it’s a bloody triathlon. At this point My max bike ride has been 6.5kms and I’m on run 1 of week 2 on C25K, not running more than 90 seconds at a time. The most worrying think is that these two disciplines only come into play if I survive the 400m open water swim. Having had to cancel two challenges that just came to soon post-op I really can’t wait for this. This triathlon has really been a motivation on the days when I was sore and didn’t want to go for that walk, or do the same rehab exercises for the umpteenth time.  It also helps to know that my wife and mother in law are doing the tri too, everyone knows you can’t let your mother in-law beat you. I wonder if Castle Triathlon Series know what they’ve let themselves in for.

Week 7 – feeling almost normal(ish)

A holiday in Greece sounds lovely doesn’t it, and I’m not ungrateful for a fantastic week however this was no ordinary relax in the sun holiday. It was a Neilson holiday, jam packed with fun physical activities from cycling to waterskiing and everything in between. Booked last November there was no thought given to surgery recovery and rehab since we assumed it would all be a distant memory at this point. As it turned out our holiday clashed with a period of conflict between my heart and head, between pushing hard and taking it steady. Holding back and in many cases watching others do these activities was going to be a challenge, and not the kind I like.


As we arrived in Greece my farthest swim post op was 60m and that nearly killed me. I was keen to increase this as it’s the main cardio I’ve been able to do, that and the swim in the triathlon is already making me nervous. Mid week I made a push and reset myself the target of 400m (I’d already failed earlier in the week), 250m down my lungs and shoulders were crying, 300m I’m seriously pleased I had Becky my personal lifeguard with me, 350m, almost there, just one more length and I’ve done it. High fives all round then out of the pool to relax. 400m done, target one ticked off! 


With Becky in love with open water swimming it didn’t take long before she was clambering into her wetsuit and making her way to the sea. I supported from a kayak, apparently looking out for Whales (highly unlikely for a multitude of reasons). With the sea calm and wind low in the morning this would become a regular part of the morning routine. The girl is half fish I swear, her longest swim was 3.5 kms. Not to be outdone I dared to enter the sea, obviously the day I chose was the one day the sea decided to dance. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, thankfully there were no kids around because the air around me was turned blue! Plenty of stops, a touch of seasickness, a number of panic attacks as the waves picked me up and dropped me down and 900m was complete. 

To say I’ve been looking forward to getting on a bike would be an understatement. It’s been almost 9 months since I last rode a bike pain free (my fibroid was large enough so that whenever I pedalled I would force the fibroid into my stomach). One of the bike instructors, Jess, helped make sure I was on a suitable bike (no I wasn’t using stabilisers), reassured me they would pick up the bike if I needed to abandon it, and I was off. My first venture took me on a flat 2.5km, relatively easy pedalling it was nice to be back on a road bike picking up some speed. I waited a couple of days to make sure I had no negative reaction but really I couldn’t wait to get back out. Feeling more adventurous I set out to attempt a 6.5 km circuit to the local “town”, still a relatively short ride but measurable improvements. A couple of steady climbs and my quads were waking up after way too long without a challenge. Now the best bit, where there’s a climb there’s a decent. Yep that was me coasting down the hills shouting “wahoo”, wind in my hair and a smile on my face, yes I am a child at heart! 


Now I’m well aware that a triathlon involves three disciplines. Swim achieved, cycling getting there, run wise who stole my running legs? 8 lots of 60 seconds run and 90 seconds rest and it felt like I’d done a marathon. It was nowhere near as enjoyable as I remember but each step was a step closer to fitness. 

It’s crazy how much introducing these activities boosted my mood. It’s almost like being given part of my identity back. Worryingly a small opening has appeared on my incision site, no more than a couple of millimetres in diameter and very superficial, it is still a reminder that I’m still in the “be cautious” phase of recovery. However there’s so much more I want to be doing, so much more within reach, the only question now is do I have the discipline for this phase of recovery? 


As for our Neilson experience, once again it was fantastic. We are already looking at when we can go back. Neilson Messini is definitely staying on our “visit again” list. 

Week 5 – The return of actual exercise.

It’s finally here, the last “take it easy week”. That’s the advice you get given, “take it easy for six weeks”, yeah and then what? Are you magically healed? Able to go back to doing everything you want the way you were before? Not quite! I’ve been looking forward to the six week mark like it was some kind of enchanted door leading to recovery and normality. In reality the 6 week anniversary is just another day and this journey will be continuous. I see that now. If truth be told I’ve been introducing new activities as I’ve seen fit, if it doesn’t pull or hurt or cause an adverse reaction I’ve done it. I’ve tried to listen to my body, be gentle with anything new and always err on the side of caution.

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The last week has seen me progress from nothing but walking, to walking, swimming, and cycling. Actual Physical activities! Walking regularly is still a staple. I’m a geek, I like data, primarily I like that it shows progress. Each week I’ve set an average daily steps target, this allows for bad and good days This weeks target has been 7500 and that’s been easily achieved. I’ve even gone above 10000 steps three times, how do fit and healthy adults fall below this recommended amount? Swimming a single length for the first time post-op was HUGE, not only because I’m not a big fan of water but because Swimming is actual exercise! I introduced it first using a noodle (the swimming not egg kind), then moved onto a pool buoy before going unaided, first for 5 metres then slightly further until I’d done the whole length.  Cycling wise I gingerly climbed on a stationary bike, being mindful of good maintaining good posture whilst also being aware that I have extraordinarily short legs that only just reach the pedals at the bottom despite the seat being at it’s lowest setting. I’ve worked up to a massive 2kms on the bike, ok it’s no Tour de Yorkshire but again it’s actual exercise and I actually feel like I’m on the road to the triathlon.

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This week also marked the point at which I was to reintroduce Pilates. For months prior to surgery I had been a regular at Pilates, building from very basic to more advanced movements and really feeling the difference. In the build up to the class I was anxious about the psychological side of going back. Don’t get me wrong I fully trust the instructor, Emma, who is also a good friend but this would be a real indication of how far back the surgery had knocked me. Walking into the hall and getting started was great, and even though being given alternatives  and being directed to the lowest level was frustrating and a reminder to leave the ego at the door I came out buzzing and looking forward to the next class.

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Whilst it’s been a good week physically, mentally it’s been tough. This week should have been “Peak week” for me in the Rat Race preparations so whilst introducing new activities is great, a 2km ride on a stationary bike is hardly as momentous as a 20 mile obstacle run. The Dirty Weekend was going to be a huge challenge, and the highlight of this year, it had rocketed both my own and my dads training to new levels, but it’s not to be. Not this year anyway. Unfortunately the numerous cancellations I’ve endured resulted in my surgery being just six weeks before this event. It’s hard to see the build up to this event, knowing that you should be preparing for whatever it holds when the reality is you are marking a 3 km walk as a new personal best. Keeping a training diary is helping, as is the events I have booked in for this year, although a further event is at risk of being slightly too early for me. One thing is for certain though, I will be running the dirty weekend next year, it will be epic, and I will be stronger, mentally and physically, than ever before!

 

I only went and did it! 

A week after what was one of my toughest physical and psychological challenges this year and I am actually still smiling at what I achieved. If you have read my previous blogs you will know my relationship with water and open water in particular is a rocky one. From waking that morning to finding myself treading water waiting for the signal to go I was continually questioning my sanity and will to even attempt this challenge. This was not helped by a rather pessimistic looking sign at the start forbidding swimming. 


As the start signal sounded we were off, it took me ages to get into my stroke, breathing every other stroke just to keep the panic away. This was working I was starting to settle and dare I say enjoy the swim. Suddenly there was a hand on my head and down I went, as I resurfaced the safety kayak was asking if I was ok, before I had chance to answer Becky announced I was fine whilst pulling me back into a swimming position. The rest of the first lap went without incident, sighting was an issue but boy did the sight of the water exit give a huge boost! Getting out I felt like I’d just done my hardest work out ever, Becky announced we were to run the 100 m and we were soon back in the water. 


The second lap was actually enjoyable, as I relaxed and realised all the work in the pool was paying off, I was still alive and all I needed to do was finish this lap to have finished. With around 300m left my arms were dead, my shoulders burned and my head dreamt of getting out and into dry land. Aiming for the pylon and then the water exit, the stroke felt good, breathing relaxed and I began to feel a sense of pride. Here I was about to finish my first open water swim event. 


I crossed the finish line, got my medal, watched Becky go back in for her third lap and smiled. I had done it! Yes it was the shortest distance of the day, yes I stayed with Becky the whole way but I had swam the whole way, nobody can take that away. I have completed a few OCR events this year but nothing rivalled that sense of achievement! 


This event was well organised, had a great atmosphere and the location was great. If you like open water swimming check out Amphibian events. Dare I say I am even considering signing up for their short course next year.