Did someone say open water?

A few weeks before the race, my brother mentioned that Lidl or Aldi (I can never remember which one’s which) were doing a triathlon/ cycling sale and that they had tri-suits available for £15. Bargain! So I bought one for me and one for him then went home and eagerly tried it on. I was looking like a real professional. That is, if the professional in question was a professional pie-eater comically squeezed into a skin-tight one-piece. Nonetheless, it felt good. I wore it to swimming the next week then, halfway through a length (I was doing quite a few by now!), I made the link between open water swimming and the need of a wet-suit. I’m not sure if it was the tri-suit that triggered this thought or if the weird looks I was getting was making me want to cover up, but I knew that I needed to get one. I’m not sure why it went so long without putting 2 and 2 together. Not only did I need a wet-suit, but also I needed some experience of swimming outside of a swimming pool. To remedy this, I went on the hunt online for a wetsuit and somewhere to swim outside.

The wet-suit world is much larger than I was expecting. Also, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a surf wet-suit which is definitely not something you want to try and swim in. Swimming wet-suits are specifically designed to have thinner neoprene under the arms to allow for a wider range of motion, and they tend to have thicker neoprene in the shins so that it helps to hold your legs up, giving you a better position in the water. After a good few hours of looking online, I gave up. There were too many wetsuits to choose from and the only place I could find for outside swimming were some outdoor pools (and after the weird looks I got wearing a tri-suit in a swimming pool, I can’t imagine what it would be like to wear a full wet-suit!). What I had found, however, was a triathlon shop (Trisports) in Letchworth Garden City which was only about 15 minutes away. I immediately got up and drove there. When I got there, I explained my predicament and that I may or may not continue with triathlon past this point so I was advised to get an entry level wet-suit. I followed their advice and tried on the suit (Zone 3 Advance, perhaps? I can’t quite remember). It fit well so I went ahead and bought it, along with some nice new goggles and some lube. It sounds funny, but some form of suit-lube is crucial when it comes to swimming in a wet-suit, unless you like chafing. As I was buying the suit, I saw a flyer for the ‘Duck ‘n’ Dash’, an aquathlon organised by local triathlon group, Freedom Tri. It turns out the club have a good relationship with Trisports so I asked a few questions and found out that they do proper open water swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesy. What a stroke of fate! As soon as I got home, I found their website and enquired about swimming with them.
After exchanging emails for a week or so, I was invited to join them at the Blue Lagoon to watch one of their internal aquathlons. They have various club races during the season. It gave me the chance to meet some of the club members and to see if it’s the kind of club I see myself joining. Their tagline is “Hertfordshire’s friendliest triathlon club” and they definitely lived up to it. I had a great morning! Watching everyone setting off in a mass start; swimming a lap of “the pit”, as it’s lovingly known; remove their wet-suits; run up and out of the gates and off on the 5k run. Apart from all the standard safety rules everyone has to follow, there was one particular rule which, if broken, would mean immediate disqualification. You MUST high-five everyone. If you go past a single person without a high-five, be they spectating, racing, or otherwise, you will be marked with a big fat ‘D’ on the time-sheet. It really brought a sense of fun to the race and after about 4 or 5 high-fives, I knew that this was the club for me. So I signed up and mentally prepared myself for swimming in “the pit”.
Due to insurance and liability reasons, there were certain things you had to do before going in the pit: you had to be able to swim at least 900m unaided; be a member of the club; have an induction swim with one of the swim leads; and sign a waiver. After sorting all of this, I found a swim lead who was able to take me out on my first swim. Due to my lack of planning, or failure to think about swimming outside, the first they could fit me in for my induction swim was Saturday June 6th 2015. The day before the race. I made it around, though had to stop several times (there are buoys marking the route – useful as hovering spots). I had done over 900m in the pool, once or twice, but it was very different in the open water. Even though the wet-suit gave me added buoyancy, I still felt quite uncomfortable being so far from an edge and in such deep water (apparently there’s an old double-decker bus down at the bottom for the local diving club to play around in). When I got out of the water, though, I felt great. I was comfortable in my ability to swim and really glad that I had done some open water swimming before the race. Now it was time to go home, carbo-load and get some rest.

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