Triathlon Training – Part 1

Open Water Swimming – with Tri ‘n’ Swim Well

It’s 04:30 am on a Saturday and of course, despite not having work today and remembering to turn my alarm off last night, I wake up “naturally” at this unnatural hour. It has taken years to get into this habit and for the most part I’m grateful. Not this morning though, as my first open water swim is not until 07:30 am, giving me 3 hours to think (read, worry) about it. It’s all been pool swims until now – all 3 times I’ve been!

It fit me when I bought it before the London Marathon (4 kg ago).

I have got on superhero outfit #1, aka my tri-suit (as in, “try not to laugh”, or “try and hold your belly in”). Like Superman, I put on some less comical clothes over the top for the drive (just in case I’m pulled over for speeding or suchlike, and need to get out of the car). I assume there will be a changing room, or a phone box, at the reservoir to transform again.

I drive to Hadleigh Park and arrive nice and early, 06:30, avoiding a major pet peeve of mine, “tardiness”, which would stress me out completely and make taking on board any instruction a lot less likely. I take the opportunity to wander around with my selfie stick and record something for the vlog, and I reminisce about the Parkour classes I attended here last year with my son Ralph.

Parkour with Ralph, summer 2018

Instructor #1, Gill (which is pronounced “Jill” of course, not as I wrongly said it, “gill”, like a fish – even if she can swim like one) is the first to arrive. We chat for a bit and after letting her know I’ve swum in lakes before, the essence of what I say is, “How hard can it be?” to which she replies, “Have you ever swum in a wet suit?” I say “no”, then self-correct as I remember that ten years ago I had done some very short bursts in a wet suit in Australia – back when I still had, “I so want to be a rock star” hair. So great, no big deal – I think.

Australia, 2009, newly-weds

Instructor #2, Mark arrives shortly after, takes pity on me and shows me how to put on the wet suit I have donned only once (in a Decathlon changing room, with my two kids laughing and pointing). The first lesson is that the zip goes at the back, which I already know, but when I put my first foot in, it’s in the wrong leg but I don’t know that until the second foot is in and I’m pulling the thing up. Numpty.

Thanks for the vote of confidence Robyn!

A short while later, superhero outfit #2 on and adjusted, some more members of the group arrive. Some first timers, also training for their first triathlons, some more experienced and more superhero-like in physique and demeanour. And they all seem really nice actually – which I was surprised about. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that a lot of triathletes are super-competitive – which I’m not, except with myself – and I like to avoid these people as much as possible. But like I said, this was a friendly group (maybe it takes time and experience to get that way?).

I collect a wrist band after signing my disclaimer, then before getting in for the swim I’m branded with “21” on the back of my right hand and given bright yellow cap.

Still smiling at this point!

I tell myself that, “this is a brand new skill, don’t underestimate how hard it might be, forget everything you think you know about swimming, put on the white belt and get re-educated.” That’s what I tell myself. But I can’t hear “sensible me” over “monkey me”, who’s screaming, “it’s F******* cold! You’ve got to pee now! Is my wet suit filling up? Why can’t I get the breathing right like in the pool?!” and several other “less kind” thoughts about my ability to learn anything new.

I have my own goggles, and due to an unforeseen absence of anti-fogging solution, I have to wipe away the mist on the inside of them every time we stop to tread water. All adds to the fun, and the difficulty. Let me be clear – I don’t get motion sickness. My wife and kids do. Every time we drive, get a train, or a boat. And I, at least in the past, have not been the most sympathetic driver/co-passenger. I’ve mellowed out a bit now, I mostly just roll my eyes…but it does strike me as a bit pathetic. Well, karma is a b****! Within about 5 minutes, I’m seeing spots in front of my eyes, I’m dizzy and breathing is all I can think about – but I’m not going to let anyone know that of course. I manage to focus enough to hear most of the instructions, but I’m tempted to grab the kayak and abort the whole mission. If it isn’t motion sickness, it’s probably just me hyperventilating (my fingers are tingling a bit).

By the end, both sensible me and monkey me are shouting profanities, the last of which being, “You had to use BREASTSTROKE?!? You couldn’t even do front crawl the whole way?!? P***!” I emerge from the reservoir, head down, and pride submerged somewhere out there by the second buoy.

My first true open water experience is now over, and I survived. I have walked away with lots to think about, which means something to write about (every cloud aye?). I am tempted to go to the pool tomorrow morning, just to make up for the swimming I thought I would be doing today.

Let’s just pretend I looked this warm and happy when I got out at the end.

My next action for project “Open Water Swimming” is to spend a good hour or so in open water, just to swim and practice on my own. I need to immerse myself in something and learn from trial and error, with occasional instruction. I don’t do so well with taking on a lot of information all at once. It just takes me a bit longer to process things, and that’s fine. As I’ve said once or twice, I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m no quitter either. I’ll be giving it another go as soon as I can.

Massive THANK YOU to Tri ‘n’ Swim Well for today’s session. Hoping there’s some embarrassing footage I can cringe at, and learn from soon!

Key takeaways:

  1. Pee before putting on the tri-suit and wet suit
  2. Sit down to put on the wet suit – zip at the back
  3. Anti-fogging solution for goggles (spitting, a la “Jaws” doesn’t work)
  4. Fewer and slower strokes
  5. Don’t use my legs to kick – save these for the bike and run
  6. Pick a tall stationary landmark for sighting, not buoys, clouds or people
  7. Hum into the water to exhale
  8. Swim my own race – just like running – and accept that I’m going to have someone swim over me
  9. Thicker swim suit when I get some money….or, only do triathlons in the height of summer!
  10. Get into the water, blow bubbles and float face down like a star fish to acclimiatise before the race
  11. Wear flip flops – my trainers are soaking!

P.S: Taking full advantage of one of the few Saturdays off work, I am watching my son play football. He’s only 6, so it’s a bit painful to watch. He can’t trap the ball, or pass straight, and he runs funny. Worst of all, he doesn’t listen to the coach and instead alternates between being seemingly lost in his own head, and messing about with his mate from school. My frustration quickly dissipates as I realise, the apple does not fall far from the tree!

A rare occasion…Saturday football training with Ralph.

3 thoughts on “Triathlon Training – Part 1

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