It was already May and I was getting antsy; I didn’t have any swims booked until early June and that simply seemed wrong, I’d never started my season that late. Trouble was that I’d been holding out for a 6 part swim series in Yorkshire which I’d spotted too late last year; I really fancied doing the whole lot this season however, rather disappointingly, it appeared no events were going to be scheduled at that venue this year.
Concerns about acclimatisation were also niggling me. I’d only swam outside twice this year to date – the first so cold I couldn’t bare keeping my face in the water initially. The second was marginally warmer; though I was still wearing all my extra neoprene and gently plodding up and down the shallower side of the quarry in the vein hope of staying warm – a cursory 10 minutes without my gloves at the end was all I managed without risking the dreaded claw hands!
Scouring for potential May events I found the 1.5k MediaCity Swim Challenge – that would mean swimming in Salford Quays, not an idea I particularly relished if I’m honest, I generally plump for the more pleasant surroundings of lakes and rivers. Undecided as to whether to do it, cued excuse after excuse… “I don’t feel ready/fit enough/acclimatised yet”… “I need at least another open water training session first”… “I’m not sure I want to swim in there”… “it’s ok if you need to train that day Dave, I don’t have to do the swim”… Eventually, I manned up and signed up right before the close of online entries. Get the first one out of the way, I conceded; things can only improve from there.
And so I found myself in the urban sprawl of Dock 9 on a gloriously sunny Saturday morning watching the regular training session held before the event; swimmers basking on the steps like seals, absorbing the heat after their cool dips. Unfortunately, I knew the sun was not going to last and as I wriggled into my own seal suit the inevitable raindrops began. By the time we were entering the water the rain was heavier and the wind was picking up – typical!
I had that familiar feeling of very mild panic and as the shock of cold water rushed up my limbs to my torso and head. I’d shed the other additional neoprene layers but kept the socks for a little comfort – a decision I would later regret. The sensation soon subsided as I calmed myself back into well-known territory.
First 500m, stroke for stroke with somebody in skins, I settled in. At the far end of the basin I turned into a face full of wave – damned wind! I looked for some feet to find shelter behind; regrettably I chose the wrong ones – this fella had the most-annoying-kick-ever, nothing for a couple of strokes and then an almighty frantic blast. More face-fulls of dock water, bleugh! I moved onto his hip, the explosive foot action was still buffeting me, so onto his shoulder. To my dismay I realised we’d lost touch with the small pack ahead; unsure of my ability to breach the gap I decided not to venture into no-man’s land. Probably not the best idea as I was steered on a course too loose around the markers, with occasional clashing of arms to boot.
Kicking off for the shorter 500m lap I thankfully found another pair of feet and tucked in for a brief respite before I took a tighter line to nip behind the Detroit Bridge and back towards the finish. Back into the headwind alone, nowhere to hide, I leap-frogged between people still on their first lap. Suddenly I was overtaken by somebody who’d obviously kept far too much in reserve. I put my head down and kicked to get back in contention; side by side we aimed for the finishing ramp and hit it together. I swam in as far as possible, tried to stand but failed to gain purchase on the not-so-grippy grip mat in my socks and waddled up it rather like a penguin weeble! The unceremonious finish put me 5th overall and 2nd woman – well, I say “woman” the winner was a mere sprog. I’ll take that for my first race as a Vet!