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Cotswold Big Swim – 7th July 2018

So I’ve not stood on the start line of any races since Ironman UK back in 2016, where the swim ended with the world in a spin after getting a little concussion during the second lap that brought my Ironman attempt to an end some 15 hours earlier than expected.

After that, with a lot of loss of mojo, a whole world of things happening at work and life in general got in the way. Three months ago, I said thank you to Blair Davies, my previous coach, and joined Podium Addict, after a chat to Gemma, who I’ve known for a while as we were both coached by Blair, and during a chat it seemed like a new start, with a new coach and a new approach was what was needed if I was ever going to cross the finish line of an IM race.

So three months ago, I started working with Gemma and pretty quickly she suggested that I find a race, be it a swim, run or bike to start racing again, get some bling in, but more importantly to have something to train towards on the road to Ironman Wales 2019 (having deferred my entry from this year). I started searching google for some swims and found the Cotswold Big Swim, a choice of one or two miles open water swim at the beginning of July and there we had it, something to aim for and get the mojo back with the promise of a bit of bling.

During the first few weeks of training, I found I was enjoying it again, getting frustrated when work got in the way and I couldn’t fit a session in because of an extended shift, the mojo was definitely back and the positivity that comes from training again, feeling the DOMS after a bike set and the feel of sweat beads during a session. Then, before I knew it race week was here, the months had flown by and it was time to pack up the tent and drive down to the lake.

Who’d have thought that when I booked the race back in March that we would have been in the middle of the longest, hottest heatwave since 1976, and boy did we feel it putting the tent up! But once it was up it was time to take a wonder down to the lake, which, conveniently was only some 400m from where our tent was pitched! But just before we went for a walk and to confirm the name of the lake etc, an email came through from the race organisers warning that if the water temp was over 25 degrees then the Two-mile swim would be non wetsuit…. Cue the panic, I’ve never swam Open Water without a suit on! This was not ideal, although after a reassuring chat with Gemma, it was a case of what would be would be. Off we went for a walk to the lake, and wow what a lake….

I’ve a friend, Alex, who lives in this area and he assured me that the swim in the lake was as lovely as it looked as it was his local lake. He gave me some advice about the lake, where the weeds where and where it gets a bit shallow! The temp was 25.3 so it was back to the tent and get some sleep and hope that it would cool down, and also hoping that the tent would have cooled down so we could get some sleep!

Before I knew it, it was race morning, the first time in just under 2 years that I woke up with that feeling of anticipation and excitement, while the kettle was boiling, time for one last check of my kit bag, which was relatively easy compared to last time and having to set up split transitions!

Then, after my coffee and porridge it was time to walk to the start line, and my god was it warm already, the walk only took a few moments and it was off to register. I’ve never been so happy to see a sign with 24 degrees written on it! 24 degrees, left the race being wetsuit optional, as I was registering, there was also the option to drop from the 2 mile swim to the one mile due to the temperature, but it was the two miles I signed up for, so it was the two miles that I would do!

I went back to where Vicky was standing and got my wetsuit on while the one milers were being briefed about where to keep which buoy etc. While we were waiting, Vick asked what was I aiming for, which I pointed out that apart from finishing without concussion, it was about a 90 minute swim. I said 90 minutes but wasn’t sure if that would work or not!

Before I knew it the one mile race was off and the 2 mile briefing was starting… and then went the siren and we were off, I waited towards the end of the pack and entered the water. It was probably about 200m to the first buoy, but already the panic was there. What was I doing, the water was already incredibly warm, maybe I should have gone with the one mile, maybe I should have left the wetsuit in the bag, maybe I am being really stupid with this whole Ironman idea, I’ve been trying for years to get to hear them words. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to consistency with training, using any possible excuse not to go out, but here I was, in the lake, and there is only one way around. I opened the neck of my wetsuit to let some water in to help cool down, and my god it was refreshing!

Time to get my head down and find a rhythm, two miles is a long way in an open water swim. Setting into a rhythm was probably the hardest part of that first lap, it just wasn’t coming. I generally swim and breath on the 5th stroke, but for some reason for the first ¾ of the lap, I just couldn’t to the 5th breath, there was a lot of 3 or 4 strokes between the breaths, but when it finally got there, it was worth it. The lake was absolutely glorious, the clarity of the water allowing me to make out the details of the weeds (of which there were quite a few along the back stretch). Probably the only criticism of the swim as a whole would be the lack of buoys along the stretches. There were only 3 buoys to sight off down the whole of the back straight, one of which everyone seemed to miss down the middle as everyone seemed to be taking their sights from the beach at the end with the boats and pedalos. But that’s a minor point, and my sighting isn’t brilliant as it is!

But there I was, coming around to the end of lap one, a quick check of the watch said it was 48 minutes, a little bit slower than I had thought it was but still, possible to get the 90 minutes I was aiming for, especially given that the rhythm now seemed to be settled.

The breathing was easier and I had got into the rhythm of 5 strokes to a breath, during the second stretch down the back straight I even managed to get this comfortably to 7! Something I’ve only managed to do in a pool previously! But there we go, before I knew it I was off on the last little bit of the swim, managing to pick up one or two swimmers ahead of me and aimed for them and managed to close a couple down, then it was around the island and into the final few hundred meters. A couple more sights and I could see the blue flags around to my right, direction change towards the flags and head down, pick up the pace for the last stretch, breathing down to 3 strokes per breath as I pushed on, and there we were, hearing one of the marshals calling out to the swimmers to help with the guidance and had his hand out stretched and I climbed to my feet. The timing chip wouldn’t stop until I was under the gantry so time to become vertical again and get my legs going, and there we were, across the line and the finish of my first race in two years. I exchanged my timing chip for a bit of bling and went to find the timing computer, I entered my race number, but the sun was too bright to see on the screen, so I needed to wait what seemed like a long old time for the print out to come out, and there it was 1:31!!! I had done it! 2 miles swim done, on target with a nice bit of bling to start the collection again on the road to Tenby 2019!

Just out of the finish area was Vick and her cameras, a very wet and sweaty cwtch and that was it! Race over and time to start looking for the next! Which if the duties office at work are nice, will be a return trip to the lake for the TriFerris Sprint triathlon at the beginning of September!

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