"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
10K Solo Swim, Cromhall Lake, 18 August 2019
After my 400k ride at the beginning of June I switched sports and started training for the 10k Big Brutal Swim in Snowdonia - my other target race of the summer. I'd once completed 5k in the Adriatic and done of course there was the 4k ForestMan swim, but this was going to be my first actual swim race. The distance was going to be a challenge!
I got a couple of sessions in at the pool some weeks and a good open water swim at either Clevedon or Cromhall when work shifts allowed, and the build up finished 10 days before the race with 7.5k in Cromhall Lake. Then, as the race approached, the forecast began to look seriously dodgy. Not dangerous for swimming maybe, but too rough for safety boats and kayaks. 2 days before race day the event got cancelled and I was left wondering what to do with the weekend - I decided I was ready for a 10k swim and I might as well do it solo at Cromhall.
I got to the Lake at twenty to eight and was suited up and in the water at 8:48. Conditions were easy - water mild, breeze not too strong - only a couple of swimmers in the lake. Even the buoys had had a paint job so sighting looked set to be easy. It was cool and wet but that's no hassle when you're in the water anyway. I was planning to replicate the Big Brutal Swim by coming out of the water for drinks/gels every 2.5k so I had a box of gels and a bag with small bottles of kombucha stashed on the floating jetty. I even had a small flask of chai in case my temperature started to drop. The BBS allows neoprene booties so I had my Aldi wetsuit shoes on which I'd worn at Clevedon and found pretty good - they kept the feet up with a little extra buoyancy.
The first few laps went well - early misting up soon faded to leave my goggles clear and I was sighting well. The only surprise was my lap times - a minute down on my usual at 14 mins each. I put that down to my apprehension about the distance and an unconsciously conservative pace but even when I tried to push it the times stayed the same. Oh well, if it took 4 hours so be it - the lake wasn't due to close until 1pm.
After 4 laps I got 2 gels and a small bottle of kombucha down me and was back in with my watch on 56.45. More swimmers were joining me in the lake, some in wetsuits and some skin-swimming with tow floats. Showers alternated with sunlight. Sometimes sighting was tricky when crossing the lake but essentially the going was good and I was having no hassles of the kind I'd experienced in the Vobster Aquathlon. I came through the second block of 4 laps in 1 hour dead. This time I grabbed a caffeine gel as well as a plain one and ditched the neoprene shoes as by now I was convinced they were adding drag and must be the thing slowing me down. This all paid off - the third quarter of the swim took 57 minutes so as I began to fatigue I was keeping the pace steady. I was surprised at just how tired I was - I'd swum 12 laps 10 days before and not been this drained. Whatever the reason I started the last block of 4 circuits very tired and with my shoulders and arms already feeling a bit spent. I took a big drink of kombucha, a double strength caffeine gel plus a plain energy one, and half the chai for good measure.
The first lap of the last set was slow as I was absorbing the the fuel, and I was feeling a bit sick from the motion of swimming. I was freestyling my way into the 4th hours of a swim for the first time ever and it was something my body wasn't goint to accept without raising a few questions. Pain and fatigue was spreading across my back, neck and shoulders and there was a general feeling of emptiness as you'd expect - after all this was "the last 6 miles of the marathon" in running terms. Inwardly all was good - with no coldness problems and my arms still turning over, slowly but surely, I knew I could finish. The 14th lap was a little quicker than the 13th as the fuelling began to pay off and yard by yard I kept moving forward. Bright sunlight lit up the lake and some welcome distraction was provided as I came through each lap by swimmers lining up by the jetty for an unofficial race (at least that's what I think they were doing). To help mentally I broke it down into lengths - each one roughly a quarter of the lake - starting with the "short edge" from the jetty, the "long edge" on the far side, the "crossing" where I swam through open water in the middle of the lake and the "home straight" back to the jetty. Edge by edge I counted them down until I was emerging from the water with around 10.5K behind me and a feeling of dazed satisfaction.
I missed the atmosphere of a proper race - the group energy, the shared experience - but just as you do with an Audax Permanent, I took on the challenge solo and saw it through. Not sure when I'll next try a swim event but training for this one was a great experience and as you can see from the finish line selfie, crossing the imaginary finish line felt pretty good too.
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