Back from my biggest swim event of the year so far – the Dart 10k. WOW! That was tough. And what an amazing event!
I did the same event last year and did really well. At that time, because I was worried about making what for me was a big step up in distance, I had put in lots of long training swims. This year, partly because of bad weather making the sea swimming harder, I hadn’t put in as many long sessions – so went in unsure and feeling a bit under-prepared.
I had an added nervousness this year as I’d been placed in the Elite Wave, rather than in a less daunting group.
Now it would be nice to think I’m elite. But I’m not. Really, I'm not.
I watched each wave of swimmers set off. First the so-called Leisurely Wave in yellow caps, then the red capped Medium Wave, next up the white capped Fast Wave. Each wave had around 200 swimmers, looking more determined and setting off at a stronger pace than the last.
And then we came to the Elite. Just around 15 proper swimmers in cool blue caps. Serious looking elite, including the world record holder for the marathon swim. And me.
I tell everyone I coach about the importance of going at your own pace, finding your own rhythm. Not much chance of me getting drawn into anyone else’s this time! My strategy was to make my interloper’s apologies to anyone who’d listen and go in last, if only not to get in anyone’s way.
Barely in the water, there was already a gap between them all and me. The gap yawned wide and drew hopelessly away. I struggled with the realisation that the water was much colder than I’d expected. So I was already last and starting to wonder how I’d manage in the cold for the next 9.9kms.
A deep seated fear of being last has been one of the themes I've come across with some clients who come for the Confidence Centred Coaching I'm developing (soon to be launched into the wider world). So how would I fare?
I soon realised, though, that I was not alone. To my side, a cool dude lifeguard on a body board scooted alongside – hooray for the tail-end safety cover. I told myself not to worry about being so far behind the others. I would have the river all to myself, with my own dedicated safety crewman to cling on to just in case things got really bad.
Then one other blue capped swimmer came alongside and slowly passed, just 10 metres ahead. He pulled away a little, the gap around 20m. But no further. I kept my rhythm going and by keeping a crocodile eye out for the centre of the river, pulled him back, even momentarily overtaking. I even found myself taking a cue to focus on my stroke – don’t smash and splash down like him. Elbow on a puppeteer’s string, Mike, breathe from the hips to roll. Show the dude on the board who’s got the coolest stroke.
Just before the first feed station at 4kms, Mr Blue Cap sped off – or maybe I slowed, lost in my vanity of style over speed – but other coloured caps started appearing.
The sky started to darken and it was getting choppier. I could see the safety crews now wearing wet weather gear. More and more yellow and red caps appear, to pass by as I press on. A few white caps appear. Keep going Mike – I can’t be going so badly.
But even before the second feed station at 7kms I was really getting tired. Wow. This is hard.
I found myself zigzagging a bit, unsure of where we were meant to be heading for – a sure sign of fatigue (and the crocodile eyes technique not working so well in the wider, wilder sections and choppy swell).
Finally… nope, the finally doesn’t come, though I know from last year we can’t be far off now. Keep it going.
The puppeteer has long since gone home, leaving my elbows to drag their weary way as best they can and every muscle in my arms, back and lats has put in pleading requests to stop.
All around me now are caps of every colour (except of course blue) giving me one last set of targets to swim past. The end is in sight. I can hear cheering. And then it’s done. Over. Elation. Exhaustion. I know I haven’t swum as well as I did last year but I feel so good to have made it. The last man in finds his feet, high fives his whooping daughter and heads for the hot chocolate.
Big, big thanks to the Outdoor Swimming Society for such a brilliant event – how wonderful to be able to take part. Many thanks too to everyone who supported me by donating to the charity Level Water, to bring the joys (and maybe some of the ardour) of swimming to disabled children. In two week’s time I start as newly qualified Swim Teacher with them.
Looking forward now to one more big event – the Hurly Burly in North Wales. And then a rest. At last.