Weymouth Half – the swim (and T1)

People starting the sea swim.

We got up stupidly early fort Weymouth Half as triathlons always start before sane people are awake. Stu made an instant porridge, whereas I ate some cold blueberry protein porridge that I had made the day before. It didn’t taste especially delicious as it was so cold, but I thought it was safer to stick to tried and tested. I then had a shower as I wanted to be able to do my hair in a French plait. I’ve tried lots of hairstyles and this seems to be the best way to tie my hair up, as I can also fit a helmet over it quite easily.

We picked up all of our bags and drove to a car park near to Lodmore Country park where the transition area was set up. It was a short walk, and I managed to locate the right places for my bags. I took my bottles over to my bike and had a chat with the woman whose bike was racked next to mine. Her friend came over to ask for some water as there was none available in the transition area. I had a full bottle for before the race and another for one for afterwards (750ml), so I offered him one of mine. That’s one of the things that I like about triathlons. Most people are friendly and willing to help others, no matter what their ability is.

Rough sea

It was very windy, so we were told that the race start had been delayed for half an hour whilst the officials decided whether it would be safe for the swim to go ahead. After I had finished sorting out all of my stuff, I headed over to the nearby pub where I heard that James and Ellie had a table. We were soon joined by Liz and Suzanne who had been to have a closer look at the conditions.

Rough sea at Weymouth.
Liz captured an image of the rough sea that greeted us in Weymouth © Liz Carter

After a while, we learned that the course had been adjusted and cut in half for the iron distance competitors. I was uncertain whether I would feel reassured if I went to look at the conditions for myself, so I stayed in the warmth and comfort of the pub.

Soon the whole gang had assembled for some pre-race chat/pep talks/hot drinks.

Group photo in the pub.
(L-R: Roelie, Gary, James N., Suzanne, Liz, Stu, Clare, Tamsyn & James S.) © Eleanore Coulthard

Ellie was being fantastic in her role as chief supporter. She had even made a banner to wave.

Ellie's banner saying "Go Go Lordshill Triathletes".
Ellie had made a lovely banner to wave © Eleanore Coulthard

Final preparations

No-one was sure when to get ready as sitting around in a wetsuit isn’t pleasant. When we saw the pros start running past the window, we thought we’d better get ready. It’s very odd stripping off in a pub and putting other clothes on, especially when there were some ordinary people there just having their breakfast with no idea what was going on.

Group photo in the pub.
Final preparations before heading outside © Eleanore Coulthard

We also made sure that we had our race number tattoos on, which led to a very bizarre conversation.

Someone: Stu, did you need to shave your arm to put your tattoo on?

Stu: No. I just stuck it on top.

Ellie: I did Roelie’s for her this morning.

All: You shaved Roelie’s arm?!!!

Ellie: NO, I put her tattoo on!!!

James getting ready.
James enjoyed the opportunity to show off his guns © Eleanore Coulthard

I had one last quick look at my phone and a couple of puff of my inhaler, before handing these items to Ellie for safe keeping. I know that external assistance is not allowed during triathlons, but it comforted me a bit to know that a friend would have one of my inhalers with her if I had an emergency situation. (Also, Ellie is the best friend to have in this kind of situation as she’s a medical student!)

Roelie waiting in the pub.
Roelie looking ready for action © Eleanore Coulthard

Pondering the sea conditions

We headed outside and despite the strong wind, the air temperature felt quite warm. The sea looked cold, but the local weather guru said it was 16°C.

A table showing the sea temperature in Weymouth between 6th and 14th September.
A week earlier and the swimming conditions would have been perfect!

The last triathlon that I did in Weymouth was the fantastic Weymouth Classic run by the super local tri club Bustinskins. The sea was perfect then… and we were able to wade out quite a long way before starting to swim. This time people were trying to wade out in the hope of making it through the breakers, but this didn’t seem to be making it any easier than diving into the giant waves.

People starting the sea swim.
The sea was so rough that the iron distance competitors only swam 1900m © James Nicolas

We all posed together for one last photo before Stu and James had to hurry off and join the rest of the pink wave competitors.

Pre Weymouth swim group photo.
Getting on our game faces before the swim © Eleanore Coulthard

Australian exit

I then stuck with Liz as we’re both near blind without our glasses, which were in our green bags. People give you funny looks if you walk around with your goggles on, even if you’re wearing a wetsuit and swimming hat and are within 200m of the sea!

We headed off to a pre-swim briefing, but there were so many of us that it was difficult to hear. We were told that the course had been changed completely. The new route meant that we had to head out towards one yellow buoy, swim west across the bay to another yellow buoy and then head back to the shore for a quick run before heading out and doing the loop again. There was some mention of an Erdinger arch, but I had no idea what was being said and was starting to feel a little nervous.

I’ve never done a triathlon with an ‘Australian exit’ before and I was a little concerned. If I stop swimming then I get cold quite quickly, so leaving the water and returning might be a problem. I was also worried that it would mess my breathing up as I don’t run well straight after swimming.

Tweet about the Australian exit showing the rough sea.
Fortunately, this Australian exit did not involve diving back in off a pontoon… but we did have to be pulled in from the sea!

My original aim for the swim was to finish in under an hour. My aspirational goal was to get as close to 50 minutes as possible. The extreme conditions meant that my goal was revised to surviving the swim. I was really grateful that Liz was there waiting with me. She really is the most amazingly positive person. Instead of seeing it as a nightmarish situation, she kept saying how ‘exciting’ it was.

The start of the swim

Finally, we were off. I started wading in and was pleasantly surprised by how warm the sea was, which was good. It was difficult to know whether to start swimming or to dive in, but the waves made that decision for me as I’m too short to wade out very deep with waves the size and power that they were.

Sighting was my main problem. I’ve been trying really hard to improve my sighting, but it relies on you having a fixed point to aim for. I was trying to time my breathing with the waves and also needed to look. Normally, I prefer to breathe every 3 or 5 strokes, but that simply wasn’t possible. I ended up breathing every two, which tend to make me hyperventilate. There were lots of swimmers around me, but because of the spread of people, I didn’t feel like I was too close to others… and they weren’t the ones creating the washing machine effect.

Every time I could feel that I was on the crest of a wave, I tried to sight the large yellow buoy, but quite often they couldn’t be seen, so I just had to follow the swimmers ahead of me and hope that they were generally going in the right direction. I don’t think that this is a recommended technique. If anyone has any advice on how to deal with these kinds of conditions, I’d love to hear from them.

I was aware that I wasn’t making much progress and was surprised at how calm I felt. I just kept moving and felt slightly smug that I was at least managing some front crawl. In hindsight, maybe the breaststrokers were sighting better (not sure their breathing would have been easier).

Reaching the first buoy

As I came towards the first yellow buoy, I saw a reassuring sight: a wetsuit with a blue top poking out of the neckline and a visible bit of a white swimming hat sticking out from under the purple hat. A quick glimpse at the wetsuit let me know it was Liz. Yay! a friendly face. I’d love to be able to say that I was able to draft Liz. In reality, I was vaguely following in her direction and I’m not sure that drafting would work in such rough conditions.

After passing the buoy, there was a brief respite of swimming across the bay. I knew that I could only breathe to my right (towards the beach) and it felt a little easier. Before too long, I was rounding the second yellow buoy and then I turned again to head towards the shore.

This was when my swim started to go wrong. I hadn’t really understood the comments about the Erdinger arch and was just aiming for the beach. I didn’t know which way the current was going and could see a couple of swimmers up ahead. After a couple of minutes, I realised that what I thought was a couple of swimmers up ahead really was just a couple of people and that we were heading towards some rocks. This meant that I had to start heading east in the hope that I would not be dragged onto the rocks.

At this point, I noticed that there were some swimmers near me who had on green and pink hats. I know I’m not a strong swimmer, but I guessed that these people were even less prepared for the sea swim than I was.

Out and in again

Finally, I was nearly back at the beach. It was impossible to put my feet down as the waves had a strong undercurrent. I kept being sucked back out, so I had to swim into shallow water. Fortunately, there were some lovely marshalls who were giving a helping hand.

There was then a short run along the beach. I noticed that some people were walking, but I tried to maintain a swift pace.

I turned back towards the breakers and headed out for a second lap. It didn’t feel as scary this time and I think my sighting was slightly better. As soon as I got to the second buoy, I made sure that I saw where the Erdinger arch was and kept heading towards it, so that I did not end up veering towards the rocks.

Swim done!

Finally, I was being pulled out of the waves again and a kind volunteer unzipped my wetsuit.

The Erdinger arch.
We were told to use the Erdinger arch for sighting ©StuWeb timing

I ran along the carpet and crossed the timing mat in 58:56. My initial goal had been to complete the swim in under an hour and I had achieved that, even with the severe weather conditions.

Tamsyn running in her wetsuit.
Just before I passed the timing mat © Marathon-Photos
Tamsyn running in her wetsuit.
Smiling for the camera © Marathon-Photos

I had to keep my goggles (and hat) on as I ran towards the transition bags. My eyesight is too poor for me to run without some sort of visual aid. This made me feel a bit self-conscious, but there wasn’t time to worry about that. I managed to find my bag and headed into the changing tent.

The air temperature felt quite warm, so I had decided not to change or put on any additional layers of clothing. I put on socks and my cycling shoes as well as a headband and my bike helmet. I also put in my contact lenses and used my inhaler before stuffing my wetsuit, hat and goggles into my bag. It didn’t feel like I was going really slowly, but the clock doesn’t lie: 9:35 – oops. I shouted goodbye to Liz and headed out to find my bike.


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