I can now say that I am a 'proper' marathon swimmer!! This weekend I did my first 10km sea swim event in Weymouth without a wetsuit and man o man is doing this distance in the sea a hell of a lot different to swimming in a lake....and it wasn't even that choppy!
Leading up to the event I was having a real dilema about how I was going to feed during the race. The organisors had stated that there would be no feed stations on the course and that swimmers would have to carry whatever they needed. Initially I was a little shocked that there wouldnt even be any water available to drink - the Rime of the Ancient Mariner came to mind, 'water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink...' I did some research and posted questions on forums etc to get advice. I was told that it is possible to swim with a bottle down the back of your trunks
(thanks Barbara), but I just couldnt get past how uncomfortable it would feel. I didnt even try it out in training! Instead I went for the liquid gel option and practiced swimming with a couple of those stuffed into the back of my trunks. It was suprisingly easy to used to get used to.
In the days before the swim I started to carbo load. I dont really follow a particular routine, just up the amount of rice, pasta, bread and potato I have in each meal. Its frustrating that there isnt a gauge on the body somewhere that tells you when your glycogen levels are full! In the 24 hours before the swim I really started to load up, but little and often rather than having huge meals (I have fallen fowl of this before!). In between my carboloaded meals I drank energy drink (Maxim) and nibbled on a homemade energy cake which was stuffed full of fruit,
nuts and avocado for good measure - its not the sort of cake people fight to get a piece of, but it certainly feels as though its brimming with energy.
The race didnt start until 1pm so this gave me plenty of time to take on fuel and fluid in the morning. I ate a good breakfast (a homemade mueslie and whole meal toast) and then loaded up the family in the car for a weekend by the sea.... Mel kindly drove the two and a half hours to the Weymouth, whilst I sat next to her sipping on a bottle of maxim and nibbling on a small plate of cold pasta. An hour before the swim I munched down a powerbar. By this point I was brimming with energy!! I drank almost 3 litres of fluid leading up to the swim.
Looking out at the sea before the swim, it was very calm and looked very inviting with the sun glinting off of the surface under a bright blue sky without a cloud in sight. Perfect conditions for a long swim.
The organisors brought us together to give us our race briefing talking us through the course layout and safety cover. It was a 2km bouyed course which we would obvioulsy have to loop 5 times and the water temperature was a positively tropical 17 degrees C. Just as we were about to line up and get into the water we were told that we had to remove our watches ..... there was a general look of disbelief. When questioned as to why, the response was because it was possible that when you are passing someone you could get too close and bring your arm down on their head and if you have a watch on you could do some real damage. I stood there opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish out of water. I really couldnt believe this was the reason....had these people not seen a mass swim start before!!
And then we were off....35 men and women waded out a hundred yards from the shore to the start point and started swimming at the sound of an air horn. Straight away I realised this was going to be a very different type of swim, my arms and legs were moving as normal but I wasnt moving as fast as normal. There was a cross course current that didnt get give me a boost in either direction, it just made the swim harder. Initially I was worried that this was going to be make the swim impossible, but by the time I turned at the first buoy I had found my rhythm. I decided that I would start at a nice steady pace, instead of sprinting out and getting in to oxygen debt as I normally did. By the end of the first lap I had dropped the swimmer who had been next to me and over taken one in front, the others were well out of site in front of me or behind. I had a big chunk of the sea to myself, so I just concentrated on keeping my pace steady and maintaining my position.
The race passed by in a blur, once I was in my rhythm my mind wondered and before I knew it I was starting my final lap. I still felt very stronge even though I hadnt taken a drink or had one of my energy gels. Although I started to feel a little stiffness moving into my neck and shoulders I decided to see if I could do the whole swim without feeding. Nearing the finish line I started to question whether I had actually done the whole 10km, I didnt have a watch to check so I had to assume that I had done the whole lot. I felt sufficently tired enough to have done 10km and I didnt like the thought of doing another lap, although I felt I could easily manage it. I headed to the finish line a little tentatively expecting to be told to carry on, but thankfully it was the end. I had managed to finish in 2hrs 58mins in 9th place, which I was very happy about, but I was more happy about having spent almost 3 hours in the water without a wetsuit and didnt feel cold, everything is moving in the right direction!