Race Week: Big Fish Swim, or In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion

Thank you so much to Anonymous for the donation! I think this time I might have an inkling who you are, but I’m not fully sure. I’m now halfway towards my thousand pound fundraising goal already, and I’ve not even started properly badgering people yet. The grand mark was always a loose figure, but I’m glad that I might end up going over it. Maytree is definitely a cause that deserves it.

There’s a button on TrainingPeaks (the training schedule/feedback app I use with Coach Dan, if you’re wondering) that allows me to flag activities as a ‘Breakthrough Session’ if I feel something has gone particularly well. I keep imagining some sort of Einstein-sequel eureka moment happening – probably when I finally learn how to swim like… Well, someone who actually knows how to swim, and isn’t just doing a rough approximation of whatever YouTube tutorial he last watched at half one in the morning when he couldn’t sleep (the sound of water lapping against the side of the pool is very soothing). So far, I haven’t really had a reason to use this button. I’ve made massive steps in improving my overall triathlon game, but it’s been more a game of inches than yards.

Now, somehow, I’ve managed to have an entire breakthrough week without having done sweet fuck all in the way of training. Funny, that.

Monday: Rest day, on which I actually did some cycling lab stuff for an hour
Tuesday: Unplanned rest day whilst I panicked about how a job interview would go
Wednesday: Unplanned rest day whilst I panicked about how a job interview went
Thursday: 1 hr running
Friday: 30 mins Pilates
Saturday: 1 hr 45 mins cycling
Sunday: 1 hr 20 mins Big Fish Swim, 40 mins running

See? Very much a slow week. The big news, of course, is that despite my fretting and history of self-sabotage in this area, I nailed the job interview! Changing my job in the last couple of months before an Ironman might not be super ideal in terms of acclimatising to a new schedule, but hopefully the more regular, normal hours and a much shorter commute will help me fit in extra morning sessions that I’ll need to do in peak training but thus far have found it hard to commit to. Also, I really like money. Having money is a very good thing. I might actually make it to Sweden with some funds in my pocket to play with.

Between the worrying (it was a very short notice interview, so the worrying was short but very, very intense) and a cough/cold thing that sabotaged the latter half of my week, I’ve not done a great deal of training worth talking about. That may be a good thing, as not only have I had a race this morning – which I am going to tell you all about very shortly, obviously – I also have a race tomorrow; a repeat of the cancelled Thames Turbo Sprint Tri. What happened to multi-day raves, and later multi-day hangovers, that bank holidays used to be all about? Job change, aggressively sporty lifestyle that’s taken everyone by surprise… I’m definitely going through my quarter-life crisis.

The race of today was another of my key training events: the Big Fish Swim, a 2.4 mile swim at a lake near Reading. Of course, this starting pretty early in the morning meant I had to stop over in Reading for the night, as I didn’t know anyone else doing the race (although naturally, the Chasers being as numerous as they are, I did bump into a Tri-buddy at the race). My stop over at Reading consisted of probably the worst fish and chips I’ve ever had in a pub that might have been the watering hole for the local Britain First brigade, and then I got to the job of waxing my legs in preparation for Monday’s race.

The absolutely hash job I made of this task, which is pretty routine for a lot of people, is definitely deserving of it’s own paragraph. The actual waxing bit went fine; and then I decided to ‘tidy up’ the bits I missed, or thought I missed, and suddenly the ensuite resembles the aftermath of that shower scene from Scarface and I’m expecting an email from the hotel asking if I’m okay and if I wouldn’t mind replacing the towels because they will never, ever be white again. There was blood absolutely everywhere. Including a number of places that I have literally no idea how it would have got there.

Part of the reason I’ve had a beard pretty consistently for the last couple of years is that I threw away all of the shaving equipment that could feasibly and conveniently be used to harm myself just prior to my stay with the Maytree. Not that removing some shaving blades in itself would have ever been enough to stop me self harming – one of the tragedies of self harm is that it’s very much a case of if someone wants to do it, they will find a way – but in this context I think it highlights an important point: I am just not a man that should be trusted with razors in any way, shape or form. Anyway, I do all my self harm now in the pursuit of sports (and, to a degree, in the pursuit of having sexy smooth legs), which I’m sure is much healthier.


After some minor medical emergencies (and watching the Fassbender Macbeth from last year, which is incredibly beautiful, incredibly incomprehensible and has a wonderful soundtrack full of shivering maudlin cellos that I am totally listening to on repeat while I’m writing this and my housemates definitely love me for it) I got around to doing the actual swimming thing, and it went… Brilliantly. Fantastically. I finished with an official time of 1:21:05 – I think anyone who knows how much I struggled with swimming last year will have some idea what this means to me; a single minute shy of my target time, and I loved every second of it. I forgot how much I love open water swimming. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to remember why.

In my self-examination of swimming last year, I said that despite it being my weakest discipline in triathlon, it was my favourite. That hasn’t exactly rung true this year. There has been the odd set that I’ve really enjoyed, but by and large it’s been a frustrating experience. A large part of this is that all of my sessions so far have been pool based, a necessary evil of where I’m at in swimming and doing it competitively in general. Swimming in open water is wonderful – I love racing in it, and last year, where I just mattered that I was in the water, training in it worked. This year, where I’m actually trying to get faster, open water is kind of limiting in what you can work on technique-wise: you need those hard limits a pool provides, you need to be doing proper interval work. Which is exactly what I hate, and exactly what I need. Open water swimming: the new heroin.

It’s hard to deny that what I hate has improved my swimming, even if it’s been a bit of a grind to get there. I’m a lot faster than I was last year – the only timed long distance swim I did last year was the middle distance relays I did at Hever Castle, and even without accounting for added distance fatigue, if you extrapolate my time from that event I was fifteen minutes faster today that I would have been at that point nine months ago. That’s not a small margin. That’s halfway from floundering idiot to tip of the spear. So, I should be leading my age group out of the water by, ooh, Christmas or so.

I’m also a lot more confident in the water. I definitely suffered from some awful pre-race nerves today – right up to the point where I got in the water, where they promptly evaporated in the balmy lakewater of Berkshire. Wisdom no1: you’re not going to learn anything out there, are you. Not only this, but I followed this by purposely placing myself front and only slightly off-centre for the start, despite knowing that the maul of an open water start is something that I find quite distasteful (what with my refinery an’ culture an’ all). Wisdom no2: didn’t come here to be a bitch. At the end of the day, it’s an uncomfortable situation that I need to be used to, so if this is a key training event, what better place to test myself? For the first time in my short triathlon ‘career’, even this couldn’t make me panic. I just got on with it. I got punched and kicked and tangled up, and I survived – mission accomplished. Unfortunately I think I swallowed a piece of weed so I can’t say I stuck to Wisdom no3. It tasted bland and was kinda slimey. Would not order again.

I managed to remain calm throughout the swim, even when the faster guys from the shorter races/the people that were lapping me caught up and caused a bunch of mini-mauls mid-race. I felt a little bit disjointed, but definitely felt like I got into my ‘flow’ at points (my ‘flow’ feels like I’m imitating an underwater tarzan, all loopy-like). Encouragingly, I also came out of the water feeling like I could have been faster still, like I had more to give – which works perfectly into the Ironman Kalmar strategy that is developing into ‘keep calm on the swim, grit teeth on the bike, let the crazy out on the run’.

It wasn’t all sunshine and water lillies, though. There are some points that today highlighted I need to work on. Maybe it didn’t help that today was a fairly small field (forty five swimmers in my race, of which I finished thirty-first – it’s like winning, but for mature people), but I struggled to find a set of legs to catch on to that was going at the right pace, and on the odd occasion I did, I found that despite my increasing confidence I’m still a little too timid to be around other swimmers for extended lengths of time, which really hurts my ability to consistently draft. This is something I’ll need to work on over the next three months, as it’ll save me a heck of a lot of energy on the big day. I’m hoping a self-seeded rolling start will help in finding someone the right pace, but I can’t count on that.

Another pointer is that my sighting wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, having not really had to think about it much this year, but at the same time wasn’t great. I seemed to take a much wider line than a lot of swimmers – partly due to timidity, see above – but also and probably largely because when I got into my ‘flow’, I kept forgetting to actually look where I was going. This is a bad habit that will obviously require a bit of attention. Remember those awfully cheesy government ads about not pirating films? You wouldn’t not look where you’re going when you run, you wouldn’t not look where you’re going when you cycle, you wouldn’t not look where you’re going when you swim… Swimming without looking where you’re going is really stupid. Don’t do it.

On this point though, I am going to query one thing. My all-seeing all-knowing watch seems to think I swam over a kilometre extra (it’s totalled me at just short of five kilometres). I know my sighting is bad, but it’s not extra-kilometre bad. Either that, or it’s really super terrible and I swam an extra lap and am clearly Aquaman. Screw you watch.

With the Big Fish out of the way, all of my individual discipline key training races are over – it’s time to look towards Deva Middle Distance in a fortnight, which will be the real test of how well I can string all of this training together. First though – the small matter of the Thames Turbo tomorrow. The last one, had it been race-able, would have marked pretty much a year from when I started training for triathlons. Instead, this one will mark a year from my first actual race – this event in the series was the first sprint tri I completed last year, so it’s still pretty significant, and a strong marker for the progress I’ve made. Do keep an eye on Twitter, no doubt I’ll post some interesting (read: not interesting) numbers up amidst the usual witticisms (read: inane twitter bullshit). Onwards!

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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!

5 responses to “Race Week: Big Fish Swim, or In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion

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