In Which I Forget Which Door I Came Through

The water here is eerie in it’s calm. A product of the Atlantic coast, I associate high winds with wild seas, more foamy white froth than a Japanese porn outtake. Down here approaching the Tropic of Cancer – which is the closest I’ve ever been to reaching the Southern Hemisphere and promptly falling off the bottom of the Earth – the wind gusts and blows, and the sea looks up, and says, “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh nah”.

It’s so chill. Barely rising and falling, crystal clear. Usually in England being able to see fish when you swim is accompanied by an OH BLOODY HELL GET THAT SLIMY THING AWAY FROM MY HANDS and an ensuing panic attack. Today I got a very up close and personal view of several shoals of shimmering somethings, as they danced neatly around my clumsy groping. I must be the object of much humour to fish, the inhabitants of the sea, as I flail and gasp and travel so inefficiently.

That’s maybe unfair. I don’t think I can really call myself a bad swimmer anymore. I think I’m comfortably mediocre, maybe average; but not bad. Yet to quite break the habit of comparing myself unfavourably to those far above my station rather than my immediate peers, the product of lofty and maybe unreasoned goal-setting process, but not bad. Just, y’know, not a fish. Yet.

Swimming training this year has been fractured, at best. I think, tentatively, I can maybe claim I’ve been slightly more reliable at getting sessions done this year than in the past. Sure, there have been meltdowns; one still painfully recently. When I signed up to an early season Ironman, I made a commitment to training through the long dark winter, and I knew that meant more time in indoor pools than I am comfortable with or have the patience for. But I knew this, and probably, maybe, more times than not I could repeat the phrase “You chose this” over and over in my head, until I managed to haul myself out of bed/off the sofa and to the pool.

Sometimes I would complete the set. Sometimes I wouldn’t, especially with the longer ones. When I started writing this post, I almost blamed this on the depression that has blighted this entire training cycle, but that would be making unfair excuses and not accepting responsibility – I’ve never been consistent at pool training, that one’s on me. The thing is, I just don’t enjoy it. It’s the same reason I don’t run on treadmills, and was shit at turbo sessions until I found a way to chuck up enough media distractions from the absolute tedium of it.

I like sport, and triathlon, because I like movement. Boil it down; I like going fast. I like moving places. Going up and down a short pool isn’t movement, it’s going in circles staring at the same tiles on the same pool floor, getting stuck behind the same idiot fast-lane-breaststroker, suffering the same anxiety over whether I at least look like I know what I’m doing when I’m stuck in the lane next to one of the other local tri clubs. I love swimming in lakes and rivers and ocean, and traversing. Pool ain’t traversing. Even the lidos. Yes, I see the benefit and the need, but they’re still something to be suffered in the name of progress rather than enjoyed in the name of endorphins.

Swimming has undoubtedly been the weak link in my abilities as a triathlete since I took up the sport, and I’m happy to report that the last half year has not changed that. I have improved, for sure. Or I think I have. At the same time, after last year’s optimism that broke me, I’ve just had to admit to myself that I’m not going to make the swim anything other than a free head start, gifted to all the people I can outrun with ease, this side of 2020.

There was progress in the first half of the Lanzarote programme, but I feel like it’s kind of plateaued in the last few months. Some of this is down to my suckiness at completing longer swim sessions, yes, but that doesn’t make it less faintly disappointing. Maybe I’m being a touch arrogant in making such assumption, but I want to go back to working on being a better swimmer technically, rather than the pre-Ironman fitness sessions. I trust my fitness but I don’t trust my technique.

The goals for Saturday are pretty simple: don’t get excited. Don’t get frustrated. Remember to extend, at all times, always. My tendency to come out of the water angry at underperforming in the swim and then haring off on the bike will do me absolutely no favours on this course, where overcooking things even slightly will spell disaster. Thames Turbo a couple of weeks ago, while short, was a good indicator of the mindset I want to go for – relaxed, ease into it; relish the space, and come out of the water with a clear head. Twice, because there’s an Australian exit on this course and I royally fucked that up at Wales last year.

Keeping a clear head will be key not just in making sure I am in a good place coming into T1, but all throughout the swim itself. Not just the mass start and usual Ironman rough’n’tumble, but as today’s practise swim proved, there’s a slight current heading east along the beach that can get you carried away (physically and mentally), but you then have to fight against coming back. Pay attention to effort, keep it simple, extend, extend, extend.

I imagine I will come out of the water with a swim time between 1:10 and 1:15: anything below 1:10 and I’ve probably worked too hard, anything over 1:15 and there would have to be severe extenuating circumstances for me to not see that as a lack of progress. But the time is not the focus. Extension is.

In another throwback to Wales (but this year it being my turn and not Joe Spraggin’s), I have wilfully broken one of those key tenants of triathlon – no, not ‘bring your own toilet roll’, I still have that nailed down – the one about ‘nothing new on race week’. I had a wee crisis on Sunday, when I lowered myself into Tooting Lido only to find my 50% Xterra/50% Black Witch wetsuit had sprung another 3 leaks. Now, let it never be said that I am unwilling to up the percentage of my wetsuit that is composed of Black Witch, but at this point the bloody suit had so many holes in it I’d probably have been better off just investing in more neoprene glue and painting a suit onto myself early on Saturday.

Mild panic ensued as I went through the options: honestly, yes, I probably could have patched up the suit; but with the Swedeman and the nagging suspicion of an Iron-distance swim in single digits temperatures gnawing at me, I’m not sure how much I could chance that. Hang on until the expo and chance at a good deal like Sprags got, but then I’d be at the whim of whoever actually turned up to the expo. See if I could get a suit on a day’s notice, bearing in mind I got home at about Sunday lunchtime, and had an early-morning flight on Wednesday so it’d have to be delivered Tuesday at the latest.

let it be knwon that I have shaved my beard since this awkward selfie

So yeah, a massive, resounding cheers to Zone3, who got back to me via Twitter message within 2 minutes of me dropping them a wild plea, and had a wetsuit packaged and ready to send by the end of the day. On a Sunday. Following the Royal Wedding/FA Cup final/something else that would be likely to induce a hangover on the same destructive scale of Three-Mile Island. It arrived on Tuesday (via a detour to work on my day off, but that’s my own fault), first swim in it today. Extended like a dream. Everything will be alright.

Listening: The Killers – Everything Will Be Alright; I was sat on my balcony earlier, looking out while eating my weird soup-pasta, the wind rustling through the palm trees, and the maudlin synths and slightly off-key tone just seemed to fit.

Reading: too much into why Ironman have given really shitty ugly massive timing chips to everyone except the athletes staying in Club La Santa, the opposite side of the island from the actual race but also the race’s main sponsor. They get the more conventional size ones. Poor form.

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