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Swim start: Ironman South Africa

Swim start: Ironman South Africa

Last week I booked my place at Ironman South Africa, taking place on 10 April 2016 in Port Elizabeth, so there’s no turning back now (not that there ever was). It’s an exciting event, and this video brought all of the buzz I got as a spectator right back to me.

With the running taken care of (for now at least) it’s been time to turn my hand to swimming, which was the one triathlon discipline that scared me most.

When I registered I came across the above photo, which shows just how daunting the swimming leg is: hundreds of people jostling to get to the first buoy, with a whole 2.3 miles ahead of you.

I wasn’t surprised to read advice from Terry Laughlin this week about how to cope with open water swimming anxiety. He’s a renowned expert on distance swimming, but even he recognises that in reality up to 70% of the people in the picture above are actually struck by panic within seconds of entering the water.

To help me overcome my nerves, my swimming coach Tanya Bartram has been going out of her way to help me, and we recently negotiated a cool 1 mile swim at the Great East Swim, where with Tanya’s help I finished in just under 40 minutes.

Tanya and I finish the Great East Swim together

Tanya and I finish the Great East Swim together

I have to say I really enjoyed it, and Tanya swimming alongside me gave me a real confidence boost, especially when I got a bit jostled early on and my goggles started to mist up. ‘Stop faffing and get on swimming’ seemed to be her advice, and it worked.

Tanya and I after the Great East Swim: she doesn't look too scary in this pic!

Tanya and I after the Great East Swim: she doesn’t look too scary in this pic!

I’d been pretty relaxed going in to the Great East Swim, but nerves got the better of me as I got changed into my wetsuit, and somehow I managed to ‘lose’ my timing chip, pick up someone else’s (sorry David Edwards) and turn up at the start chipless. When I told them I’d lost the timing chip on my ankle, they asked me if the one sticking out from my neck (that had obviously got caught on the velcro of my wetsuit) had anything to do with me? Red faced (me), laughingly (they) processed me through to the start …

Tanya promised me she’d have me ‘swimming like a frog’ in time for Ironman, and despite my scepticism (and with her superb coaching skills) I’m feeling a lot more confident. I’ve done a couple of early Saturday morning swims in the lake at Milton Country Park in Cambridge, and have just signed up for a 5km swim (that’s about 3.1 miles) in Bray on 5 September – by far the longest I’ll ever have swum, and if I’ve worked it out right equivalent to 200 lengths of a standard swimming pool. Yet again, despite the 06:30 start, Tanya has agreed to join me for this one last big effort (as she says: “I don’t do early mornings!”).

I need to get a lot of training in before then. It’s the ultimate test for me: if I can do this, I can do the Ironman swim.

With autumn arriving soon, then my final chance to practice my swimming outdoors comes at the North Norfolk Triathlon, helpfully taking place where I live at Wells-next-the-Sea. All being well, I’ll be taking on the 1 mile harbour swim, handing over to Tanya for the cycling and a local friend to do the running. A good chance for me to experience the cold water and currents of swimming in the sea. A month or so ago Kevin and Evette from our running group took 20 mins to swim against the tide, and 9 mins to swim the same distance back, which shows the nature of the task.

So thanks to Tanya, at the moment at least, it’s all going swimmingly …

P.S. David Edwards didn’t seem to suffer from me misappropriating his timing chip, finishing his 1 mile swim in just over 36 mins.

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