Given that our target race for the year, Ötillö, involves 10km of swimming, Izzy and I decided to enter the USwim 5km race at Salford Quays. This is my boyfriend Andy’s local spot, so it was quite convenient! Compared to several other swim races we’ve looked at, the entry fee was reasonable as well.
So on Saturday morning we made our way over by train and tram, moving from a state of calm: ‘oh, are we really racing today?’ to nerves: ‘argh, we really are racing today!’. Sign on was as simple as possible. We were crossed off the list, handed a hat and had our number written on our hand. All we had to do was make a trip to the shopping centre to visit the toilets, eat our BeetIt bars and get changed!
Although it wasn’t gloriously sunny, it still felt warmer than it had at home, and without the biting wind. The water was reputedly about 12 degrees, which we were happy with. After giving some interested people the lowdown on swimrun and our special wetsuits, I attached my gps running watch to my goggle strap to see how far we really swam and was ready to go.
It was a mass start with swimmers doing 1.5km, 3.8km and 5km races altogether, but wearing different coloured hats. Ours were gold. I started at the edge of the group but soon realised I was missing drafting opportunities. We had 5 laps to do. Just over halfway through the first one, I could see a group in front and a big gap to me. I wondered whether our race positions were already decided!
Round and round we went. After the murk of Threipmuir, the water was very clear. We could see fish and, when the sun peeked out, the water sparkled beneath us. Halfway into lap 3, I caught up with two other 5k racers. I started drafting the one who was going in the straightest line, with the intention of overtaking shortly, but he sped up! I just stayed on his heels as best I could. He wasn’t bad at sighting apart from one mad veering off course. He turned out to be a great motivator and I needed it. The beeps in my ear from my watch were telling me that each lap was a little over 1km. At the end of 3 laps I was beginning to feel the effort and thinking we were getting beyond the point of my normal training swims.
We were soon catching people finishing the other races on their short laps, which was fun. Just before the end of lap 4, as my calf threatened to cramp, someone in a gold hat came charging past. Argh! I’d been lapped! But I was weary and had problems with trapped wind in my stomach. This sometimes happens when I swim hard and I haven’t worked out why. I managed to force out a few burps for temporary relief.
Start of lap 5 and my new companion sped up! It was all I could do to hang on. I told myself to keep trying because it was a race and therefore supposed to be hard. I’m not used to this feeling when swimming. We caught a guy at the far end who tried to go with us but couldn’t. We also overtook a few others, but it was difficult to tell if they were on the same lap and fading, or whether we were lapping them. Despite a straightforward rectangular course in the quays, you could still be some lateral distance from other swimmers so it was hard to judge what was going on.
I thought the final leg would never end. In a moment of inattention, my buddy got away from me and I couldn’t swim back to him. I was feeling a bit weak but refused to give up. As we approached the finish, there was a ramp under the water. As it got closer, I couldn’t look at the floor beneath me without feeling totally disorientated. But I couldn’t swim with my eyes shut either! Finally I was there. I shouted out my number and held up my hand before crawling out.
Wow, I was definitely ‘fuzzy wuzzy’ and had to have a sit down. Andy had done the 3.8k race and luckily had finished about 5 or 6 minutes in front of me and could take photos! He seemed surprised to see me so soon … I was surprised Izzy wasn’t in first, but just 4 minutes later, there she was, looking in a slightly better state than me. Although I’d been thinking our swimrun session with paddles on Thursday night hadn’t been ideal preparation for a race, it turned out she’d also done a hard set that morning! I think we’ll be well matched when we race as a team.
I had a friendly chat with the chap I’d been racing with. The fun thing about doing swimming races is that they are full of, well, swimmers! He was going faster than you’d assume from his age and physique and he’d put many typical triathlete types to shame in the water. I liked him as he was totally straightforward, telling me: “I may be a tortoise, not a hare, but when you came up to me I wasn’t letting you overtake!” Quite right too, and probably just what I’d have thought if our roles had been reversed … 🙂
I got cold quite quickly so we changed into more clothes than would seem necessary for what was turning into a very pleasant day. Izzy and I both tried out our flapjack bars from the ChiaCharge sample pack. Mmm, very tasty! They were soft, sweet, oaty and we both savoured the salty flakes. It was also good to know those little chia seeds were giving us an extra post-workout protein boost! I was pleased I had another with me for my planned run the next day.
Prize giving happened quickly. At first I was announced as 3rd, but there had been a mix up. I was demoted to 4th! It’s not the first time that this has happened to me, but it was all realised and resolved instantly, so I was not distraught. The first three girls finished within 4 minutes of each other and I was another 8 back, so I didn’t feel hard done by. I think Izzy and I were 4th and 5th girls, but we’re waiting for the results to check and see how we did overall. I measured that we swam 5.3km and my time was 1h27 mins. I’m pleased with that anyway as it’s been well over 10 years since I swam so far.
It was time to go and find food and cake!
The next day I ran 26.8km in the hills, making it an almost ‘Borås swimrun weekend’. In two weeks time I’ll have to do the same again, but a little bit further, in one go and with even more hills! In the meantime, we’ve still got some kit stuff to sort out and test. Time is running out!