Bryn Bach Aquathlon April 2009

Not sure why, but the last time I did this race back in summer 08 I had a pretty tough time. I was hoping that with the weather better and my swimming improved it would be a different story this time around, but in the event I had a bit of a nightmare!

The first race of the season is only 400m instead of 800m, and I had been disappointed that I wouldn't get a chance to swim further. Lets face it, I need open water practise before the Marshman in mid May. But when I got into the water, the cold was a real shock, especially on the face and feet. I floundered around a bit warming up and felt a bit better, but once the horn went and we set off down the lake, I found myself struggling for breath. It was as if my wetsuit was strangling me. What was going on? I guess this is what they call cold water shock, but I've never experienced it quite like this. The numb feet and face were annoying, but the difficulty breathing was horrendous. Dark thoughts came into my head about rolling over and getting a tow back in from a kayak. I took a few breaks - a few strokes of breaststroke to sight the buoy and keep on course - but each time I got back down into front crawl I found myself struggling to breathe as if I was at high altitude and the air was lacking in oxygen.

The outbound swim carried on like this as the minutes dragged and I found myself wishing it was over. It was like one long panic attack. At least passing the buoy was a psychological boost, and things did ease up a bit after that, but I was still struggling, beginning to stray off course a lot, and swallow mouthfuls of foul lake water. Althoug the breathing settled a bit as the final buoy approached, I hadn't got over the initial breathlessness, and I was still desperate to be out of that water and back on my feet. When they did haul me out into transition, I was unsteady on my feet and had a protracted wrestling match with my wetsuit as usual. Then I realised I had forgotten to grease the insoles of my shoes, as I had real difficulty forcing the numb lumps of flesh that had replaced my feet into them.

Finally the shoes were on and I jogged out onto the path. My feet felt terrible - still numb - and I felt as if there was a stone under one foot digging into it. Was it imagination? I couldn't feel anything definitely because of the numbness. Anxiety reigned. I couldn't get any speed out of my legs, the hill race two days previously began to tell, and I was just lurching round the lake, spitting lakewater, hurting all over.

At the end of it came - well, the end of it. I was not last, but not far off, so my performance was worse than last year. I felt quite discouraged, until a guy who looked like a seasoned triathlete told me he had also struggled on the swim and actually had rolled over and signalled for help at one point (though he changed his mind and kept going). "If you can survive that, you can survive anything" he told me, and that made me realise that at least I had prevailed and finished the race.

Well, now I know what cold water shock feels like, so perhaps it won't be so bad next time! I only hope things have warmed up by the time the marshman comes around - it is at sea level in the southeast rather than high up at the heads of the valleys, so that should help. And if I do the Bryn Bach race again my only aim will be to enjoy it, as I've struggled badly both times so far!


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