You’ll have to forgive me I’m running behind time here when it comes to updating how my racing season is going. So hot on the heels of a blisteringly scorching day in Blessington I thought I’d indulge my competitive instincts and get as much value out of my new wetsuit and compete in the Wicklow Triathlon Amphibian King Aquathon on the 21st of June. This was going to be one of a trio of races hosted by Wicklow Triathlon Club over the summer months and involved a 750 m swim along the sea front and a 5 km run along the promenade.
I had arrived early in order to avoid the inevitable traffic on the M50 and the N81 leaving Dublin at tea time, the race itself wasn’t scheduled to start till 7.30pm. This was going to be my first race in the sea which I had been told would be a good bit different compared to swimming in a pool, river or lake. While the salt content of the water combined with the wetsuit would aid buoyancy and theoretically aid faster swimming than in a pool or lake, you would also have the added factors of swell, waves and current to negotiate.
The day itself if you recall was one of the warmest of the summer so far and humidity was high. Thankfully the sun had gone behind the clouds once the time approached 7.30pm. Just prior to the start time all the competitors had registered before then donning their wetsuits and then waddling en masse like penguins down the promenade to the starting point. I say waddle, primarily because we were obviously barefoot and if you know the beach in Bray you’ll know its comprises pebbles rather than sand. Needless to say just getting to the water was a challenge over those pebbles.
Once in the water it became obvious this was a totally different environment for me. While I had swam in the forty foot in Sandycove on a couple of occasions in preparation, the water in Bray seemed more turbulent from the get go. The challenge would be to swim parallel to the beach passing three buoys and then swimming in to transition to the run along the promenade. Easier said than done !!!
Open water swimming is unique, in that you either sink or swim. Now that sounds very obvious but its only when you are in a body of water 150 feet away from the beach that it hits you and your survival instincts kick in, because if they don’t and you don’t revert to actually swimming you will be in trouble very quickly. You must remember open water swimming is still very new to me, so much so there is still that fleeting moment of panic at the realisation of what it is I am doing. I literally couldn’t swim other than doggy paddle 4 years ago. It was only when studied swimming technique from youtube videos that I began to master the basics. In the beginning I decided every time I went to the pool, I would swim 1 km, no matter how long it took me. At the start it took me 1 hour 15 minutes to swim 40 laps of the local 25 metre pool, now that takes me 20 minutes. I didn’t get any lessons I just stuck at it and thought myself how to breathe bi-laterally which came in handy last week in Bray.
The ability to be able to breathe to both sides is especially handy when you are getting pummelled by waves which was exactly the case during the Bray Aquathon, as a result I chose to breathe more often than not to the side opposite the incoming waves which helped to settle me into a rhythm and settle my nerves. One of the trickiest parts of open water swimming is the necessity to sight every few strokes to ensure you’re going in the right direction. I have heard plenty of stories of swimmers meandering off route and ending up swimming in a zig zag formation which is obviously counterproductive if you are in a race. I actually managed to swim a bit longer than the desired 750m myself but given this was my first sea race that would inevitable.
Once I rounded the final buoy I have to say I was relieved to sea the shoreline approach in front of me. I hauled myself out of the water and up onto the beach and began the process of transition which involves taking off my wetsuit while still running. Thankfully there were no hitches this time and it came off in super quick time. I also elected to run without socks which speeded up the process. I had managed the swim in just under 15 mins, which wasn’t super quick but wasn’t too bad either. Once you set off running after being in the water it takes some time for the legs to get into a rhythm and for you to get up to race pace. Your legs are largely redundant in the open water swim, not so the run.
I should have paid more attention during the pre-race briefing because I wasnt actually sure what the 5km comprised. I knew we had to run from the bandstand down the promenade and then up Bray Head to the level of the car park and down again to the bandstand. It quickly dawned on em as I gasped for breath on the hill up Bray Head that we had to run this route TWICE !!. let me tell you now, walking up Bray Head is tough, but running up Bray Head seemed like madness and I think alot of the sun worshipping spectators tucking into their chips and ice creams along the promenade probably though the same thing. The humidity in the air certainly made breathing difficult but once I was on the downward slope of the hill I was able to pick up my pace and prepare myself for the second lap and a second bite at the Bray Head cherry which was just as excruciating as the first. I honestly thought I was going to have a coronary !! Needless to say I managed to get through the run in 18.30 a new personal best and the best part of all I came home 29th!! I just need to improve the swim and I will be in a much better position to compete with the top ten I think.
Quite aside from the competitive aspect there seems to be a terrific camaraderie amongst triathletes before the races but certainly afterwards as each one crosses the finish line red faced and spent. There is unity in the suffering after all, and a week later I can still smell those bloody chips !!!