I picked up swimming again mid June in order to do a 1.75mile open water swim at Isoman but things seem to have escalated. This 1.75mile swim got upgraded to a 3.5 mile swim because I found I was able to increase my distance quite easily.
When I didn't run so much I used to swim a fair bit but never more than a mile. The last 4 or 5 years I have swum a handful of times each summer and on holiday so when I started again in June it had been almost a year since I had swum.
After a month I did the 3.5 mile swim (see Isoman blog) and whilst I was nearly last I really enjoyed it so started looking for other events (I already had Nottingham big swim 5km entered for the following week). I came across the chillswim Coniston end to end swim (5.25 miles) which looked really good and was on my birthday (5th September). Unfortunately it had filled up ages ago as it is really popular but luck would have it that it is sponsored by 9bar who sponsor me so I was lucky enough to get a place via the back door. I was scared but also quite excited.
After the bigswim I met Lesley who was telling me about a 10km swim she was doing in 3 weeks time. I really fancied a 10km swim as that is called a marathon in swimming terms but ideally wanted something after Coniston. Sadly marathon swims are harder to find than marathon runs so I didn't really have many options. I thought about it during the week and had pretty much decided that it would be too big a jump in such a short time. When I saw Lesley at the Railway ultra on Saturday I told her I had decided to be sensible and not do the 10km.
So what happened? Well I just couldn't put it out of my head, I could not settle and was not happy with my decision. I went onto a swim forum and asked what people thought. Just about everyone said go for it. I was going to be doing long swims in the pool in training for Coniston (the lake sessions are not long enough to do mega swims) I would just need to cram in some slightly longer ones. I had done 3.5 miles in the pool at the end of the week and felt fine, that was my longest time in the water as I am faster in a wetsuit. So the plan was Monday do a longer swim and see how that is then decide.
At the gym where I go to swim the lane swim sessions are not made for people training for marathon swims so I went to Loughborough University which had a much longer session although it did mean paying (swimming is part of my gym membership). It is not until you go somewhere better than you realise how bad the usual place is! The University was much nicer in so many way so much so that by the end of my swim I had pretty much decided I would be joining even though I already had pool membership at the gym!
On that swim I did 7km/4.3 miles - I could have done more but the session was ending. As this was Monday I thought that I could nudge the distance up a bit more on Friday before having just over a week to recover for the 10km. I did 8km/5miles on Friday which again felt OK and I felt I could have done more. I was a bit slower but I had had a hard week of swimming so that was to be expected. The entry was now in! I felt that I would be OK with the distance now but was worried about the cold and if I would get too cold being in the water for over 4 hours.
Race day arrives and I am nervous/excited/scared. Meet Lesley and some of her friends at the start, she is feeling the same too! We each have a number section on the pontoon to put our drinks which is good as then they are easy to find. I wasn't quite sure what I would need but on my 5mile swim did get very hungry so I had a big carton of chocolate soya milk (so that I could save time by getting my calories and fluids in in one go! A caffeine electrolyte drink, a couple of gels and a 9bar.
Just before we got in I had some of the soya milk to ensure I was hydrated before I started and to top up my calories in the hope that I wouldn't need to stop too many times. There was a quick race briefing then we were allowed in the water. As usual I waited until last as I don't want to be standing in cold water longer than necessary. I made sure I positioned myself near the back too.
The course was a rectangle. We started halfway down one of the long sides. As you were nearing that point at the end of the lap you had to go diagonally to the pontoon to hit your chip on a carpet before starting the next lap. The drinks were around the side of the pontoon the chip mat on the front.
Out of all the events I have done this was the best in terms of being able to see the buoys - as soon as you got to one you could easily see the next. There were about 45 swimmers in the 10km (other races started later) so there was none of the kicking and shoving like at Nottingham and I was able to settle into my slow steady pace from the start without worry about being kicked or shoved out the way and without really needing to look out for others too much. About halfway round the lap there was a section I was not too keen on as there were loads of weeds growing up from the bottom so if doing front crawl your hands got caught in them. At this same point were a load of swans always giving me funny looks but luckily keeping well away. I found the best way through this section was a wide front crawl and not going deep underwater. Breastroke might have worked but that is harder in a wetsuit.
First lap was completed in 21.xx which didn't seem right (too fast) then I realised that the first lap was a bit shorter as you didn't have the going to the pontoon and back bit. I was pleased to get the first lap done as I was now confident I knew where I was going and could see all the buoys. I didn't like the going to the pontoon bit as that was also weedy and was a bit awkward doing the turn around as hard to push off. On the later laps it became even more difficult as I was being lapped and it was sometimes busy so I would get kicked by people thinking they could push off from me.
The next lap the watch said 44.xx - I hadn't been looking at the seconds but 23 mins when I did the calculations also seemed a bit fast. When I am running if I am going too fast I will slow down but with swimming I only have two speeds - 'plod' and 'make a bit of an effort' I was already doing the plod so I couldn't really slow down. 3 weeks ago I had done the 5km in just over 2 hours so was expecting to be in the region of 4.15-4.30 allowing for fading a lot which I did at my previous two events. On my recent pool swims I hadn't faded as much so I had a dream goal of 4.15 but ideally just wanted under 4.30. A 23.xx min lap was sub 4!!!! I knew I wasn't going to keep it up but did start thinking maybe I could get sub 2 for 5km which would be nice.
I had planned to have feeds at 3/5/7/9 km but as I was coming to the end of the 3km lap there was a mass of 5km swimmers passing me quite aggressively. There seemed to be loads of them too. As I wasn't feeling hungry I decided that I would wait until 4km as I figured getting around to my bottles with loads of swimmers around would be hard work! At 4km I had some chocolate soya milk and electrolyte and it was quite hard getting around there although I think I only wasted about a minute. Set off for lap 5 feeling a bit sick from all the fluid inside me but it soon wore off. Even after the stop it was looking like I was easily going to get under 2 hours for 5km - ended up on 1.55 so very happy with that.
I know from running all about fading! I know that a 1.55 at half way does certainly not mean sub 4 at the finish but I did start letting myself think about sub 4 at the halfway point because my lap times had been fairly consistent unlike the 3.5 mile event which was 4 laps (Notts harder to compare as that was only 2 laps and you had to get out and back in again!). I worked out that if I did 24.30 per lap I still had spare for a couple more feeds but thought that if I could manage on just one more feed then that would be better. Having had something at 4km I had thought 6 and 8 but was now thinking lets see if I feel I need something at 6 and if not stretch it to 7 which is what I ended up doing.
As each lap passed in under the 24.30 I needed I was starting to seriously think that I would get close to 4 hours. I knew it was not a given as I could easily take an extra 2-3 mins per lap as I got tired and more when in unfamiliar territory. However, as I was getting under 24.30 I was getting more of a buffer and I found I didn't need a feed at 6km so that banked a bit more time.
At 7km I was getting quite hungry so thought I would have some more choc soya and a gel but couldn't get the gel open with cold hands. Used my teeth so eventually got a small opening but it was hard getting any out so only had about half of it. A time check showed that I had over 25 mins to do each lap now - still not guaranteed but since I hadn't been slowing too much it was looking possible. As I was feeling OK (slightly achy shoulders) I decided to make a bit of an effort for a few small sections, maybe about a minute harder a few times each lap just to try to gain a bit of time as I didn't want a really stressful last lap!!
With 2 laps to go I was on 3.08.xx so this was looking good but still to early to celebrate. I was trying to take note of the seconds but often couldn't remember what they were and I was looking at my watch a few strokes after the chip mat once I was well on my way on not risking being kicked so that meant I had a bit more time than I thought, only a few seconds but they all help. I continued to do the minute or so a bit harder and ended the 9th lap on 3.32.xx. I set off on the last lap smiling to myself as not only did I know I was going to do it but I was pretty certain (unless I got cramp or attacked by the swans) that I was going to do sub 4 which was a time not even on my radar. I was finding it really hard to believe.
I really enjoyed the event and found it so much easier both training for and doing than my first marathon. The water temperature was 19 degrees. I didn't really get cold. My feet went numb a few times and occasionally I thought I would have liked it to be warmer but I never got proper cold. That was probably thanks to my orca heat seeker vest (worn under wetsuit as an extra layer.
Post race I only had a tiny bit of chaffing from the vest and my shoulders ached but were not disabling - another thing which is better than post run marathon!!