After getting up early to watch the Salty Sea Dog Triathlon and then doing a reasonably quick parkrun, I was feeling a little hungry by the time we had to get ready for the Salty Sea Dog Long Swim, but there was too much to do for me to think about eating.
I went to register, which is where a problem occurred. One the day bookings had been so popular that there were no timing chips left. The assistant explained that we could enter at a discounted rate, but that we would not get an official time. I needed to do the swim as I have the Scilly Swim Challenge coming up… but it would be gutting to have my second longest swim as another unofficial swim, even if I were allowed to wear a Garmin this time.
Fortunately, after a short wait, it was decided that some of the timing chips that had been used earlier could be reset before the Salty Sea Dog Long Swim – excellent! Onto the next problem – payment. Card payments are usually accepted at this event, but the event director who manages the transactions was currently out on a boat, rescuing some buoys that were floating towards France – darn! The events team were very trusting and told me that I could come back and pay later.
I went over and had a quick chat with some other members of STC and former member, Mike, who had cycled down to Boscombe and then it was time to get ready.
In theory, if I’ve swum 5km in 2:05, it shouldn’t be too hard to swim 3.8km in 1:50… but the 5km was in a calm lake and I didn’t have to sight much.
I headed down to the beach with Donna and Jamie, another STC member. Donna and I went for a quick dip in the sea and I was pleased to find that it was a lot warmer than the water in Dun Laoghaire last weekend. We then headed back to the start area where each person’s chip needed to be checked. My chip didn’t work, so I was asked to wait on one side whilst it was reset.
After my chip was reset, I headed over so that the first two buoys of the rectangular course were lined up in front of me. The tide had turned and had started to go out and the current was going to the east, so the first two sides of the rectangle should be the easiest ones to swim.
In the pre-race briefing, we had been told that the 2.4km race would be 2 laps and that the 3.8km race would be 3 laps… but that if anyone who had entered the 3.8km event wanted to finish after 2.4km that would be fine. It’s the kind of comment that I don’t need to hear as I knew it would be easy to bail, but I can’t afford to quit right now.
Soon, the horn sounded and we were off. I waded out as deep as I could before I started swimming. It didn’t take too many strokes for me to get into a rhythm. the sun was shining and the sky seemed beautifully clear blue. However, it wasn’t long before I saw my first jellyfish.
When I did my first sea swim (at Weymouth last year), there were lots of enormous barrel jellyfish and I freaked out whenever I saw one and would start swimming away from it. At Fowey harbour swim last summer, there were lots of compass jellyfish, which can deliver a nasty sting, and around the back of St Michael’s Mount there were smacks of tiny moon jellyfish, so I’ve managed to get a bit accustomed to them. I keep reminding myself that if I have a wetsuit on, only small parts of my face, my hands and my feet are exposed, so I should be OK.
There were a lot of jellyfish at Boscombe, but I did my best to swim over them. I reasoned that if I were not going to hit them with my face then as long as I kept my arms moving for a couple fo stroke and didn’t flail my legs, I would be OK.
When I got to the first turn buoy, my sighting had been a bit too accurate and I got clobbered around the head by a lot of other swimmers who were trying to take the racing line – ouch!
I got into a pack of swimmers who were moving at about the same speed of me, which helped me to feel comfortable and confident. We stayed together until we turned onto the last side of the rectangle. At that point, I decided that they were heading for the wrong buoy, so I thought it would be stupid to follow them blindly. I struck out on my own and realised too late that I was heading for the buoy that signalled the swim exit – oops. I swam hard to catch up with the pack, but it tired me a little.
Part way around the second lap, I decided that I needed to rinse my goggles. The sun had started to go behind clouds, it wasn’t as warm and the wind was getting up, so the sea was a little choppier. I was finding it difficult to sight and thought rinsing my goggles would help. It was such a big mistake. I took off my goggles an started treading water, which gave me cramp in my calf. I put my goggles back on and had to swim with my arms only for a couple of minutes to ease my leg off.
Soon my leg felt better again and I was able to catch up with some of the other swimmers.
When we passed the exit buoy, everyone who was around me turned off and I was a little tempted, but I know I’m capable of swimming 3.8km, so I kept going. I had to tread water for a little bit as I tried to get my bearings, but soon I headed off again. I had glanced at my watch when the others turned off and saw that the time was about 1:05, so I felt confident that I could complete the swim in time.
When I turned out onto the long back straight, I had a glance around and couldn’t see anyone, but I pressed on. However, I was starting to get really nervous. It felt like I was a long way from shore on my own and I wondered whether anyone knew I was still out there, even though we had been counted into the water. In previous events, when I have been at the back, I have always been accompanied by a kayaker, but I couldn’t see any of the event support staff. The buoy also felt further away – was I tiring, or had the buoy started drifting?
Then I heard a boat. Unfortunately, I have an over-active imagination and can be relied upon to fear the worst in any situation. Having tackled my fear of jellyfish, I am still afraid that I am going to be run over by a powerboat like Kirsty MacColl. I looked around and could see the boat, so I started treading water and waving. The boat started coming slowly towards me and the crew asked if I were OK, or whether I wanted to hang onto their boat for a bit. I said that I had panicked a bit, but that I was Ok now. They then asked me what lap I was on. Instead of sensibly replying that I was on my third lap, I said, “The last one!” I then set off swimming again.
The boat followed me at a distance to the far buoy and then sped off, so I was alone again… fortunately, a kayaker soon started paddling over. I decided that if the kayaker were paddling by me then they would probably let me know if I were swimming in completely the wrong direction, so I decided to focus on trying to swim as quickly as I could against the current so that I wouldn’t miss the cut-off.
Finally, I got to the turn buoy and swam as quickly as I could towards the shore. The water seemed a bit churned up and murky, but I knew I had to ignore it and press on.
I waded out of the water and checked my Garmin. My official time for the 3.8km swim was 1:49:04. It was slower than I’d hoped for, but at least I finished before the 1:50:00 cut off (and I wasn’t last!)
My Garmin came up with some completely crazy data today – I swam for < 2 hours, but allegedly I took 58, 773 strokes – my arms must have been whizzing around like propellers!
This was a really good event, but I think I need to speed up if I intend to race this distance again.
What’s your longest ever open water swim?