June is here. For the past 2 years, June has always brought with it a sense of edginess and nervousness, as it’s been the month I’ve raced my two 100-milers. This year was no different in terms of feeling anxious, but the reason why is very different. June 2017 signalled (loudly) the fact the there is just one month to go until I try to complete my first Half Ironman event. June means that there are just over 4 weeks until I employ every tactic, mental and physical, that running has taught me over the years to don that wetsuit, conquer one of my biggest fears and swim 1.2 miles. In short, June means squeaky bottom time.
Training to swim 1.2 miles – physical
I never thought I’d say this, but the fact I have to swim 1.2 miles (or 78 lengths of a standard 25m pool) isn’t the thing that’s worrying me the most. This feels strange to write – and I mean really strange – but I’m pretty confident I can cover the distance. Now there are some words I never thought I’d utter! I’ve got up to .89 miles in training (57 lengths). With a month to go, I’ll be hitting the magic 1.2 for the first time. But the thing that stresses me out the most is the time cut-off. I’m so slow!
The image below shows the reading from my last swim. I managed 57 lengths in 1h03m. Towards the end of the session, it was taking me about a minute to swim a length. I need to swim another 21 lengths to hit the distance, and the time limit is 1h10m. So, by my reckoning, I’m currently 14 lengths short.
Now, the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the date on the image above – 17th April. Yep, at the time of writing this post, that was the last time I swam. Now it’s the first week of June! Since that training session, when I actually left feeling pretty good about swimming, I’ve had other things eating my time – a weekend away for the London Marathon, The Dukeries 40 and various unforeseen life events. On top of that, I had a serious chest infection which floored me for weeks. I’ve just not been able to swim. So now I have a month to make up the gap. Assuming I can carry on where I left off, I’ll be 14 minutes short of hitting the race cut-off. So after the first one, each subsequent session needs to be four minutes faster than the one before to get me right for race day.
Training to swim 1.2 miles – mental
I like what I term ‘lazy thinking’, when my mind wanders onto a subject without particular intent. Whenever this frame of mind is on me, I find myself having some cool thoughts. A few weeks ago, I was drinking the second of a few cheeky beers (great for ‘lazy thinking’…) and my mind subconsciously slipped into thinking about the triathlon. I wasn’t aware of the subject arising in my mind, so the usual anxiety which surrounds it didn’t surface. It’s like thinking about a thing, but sneaking in through the back door and taking the subject by surprise. I felt that putting the feeling into words would help me come race day when the nerves will threaten to swamp me. This is what I wrote in my notebook –
‘I had one of those moments tonight. I was thinking about the Tri and felt resolve settle in my stomach which then washed through my mind. I looked in the mirror. And those eyes staring back at me told me all I need to know. I’m gonna do it.’
I still have to psyche myself up to go swimming. But once I’m there, and have a few lengths under my buoyancy shorts, I’m OK. I know how to balance in the water, so know I’m not going to sink. Which lets me calm down enough to analyse what I’m doing. I really have to concentrate hard to keep moving in a controlled way. If my mind wanders, I find myself either going too fast or staying under water for too long. Both of which leave me struggling for breath.
I’ll be doing my first open-water swim this week, in the wetsuit which is still in its box (I’m slowly building my mindset and coming out of denial!). This will be a test for me, I’m sure, but it’s one I look forward to. I’m not putting myself under any real pressure for the first time in open water. It’ll be great just to know for sure how all the gear feels on me, and what it feels like to swim in it.
I’ve come across some massively inspirational people since immersing myself into the world of endurance sports. In terms of swimming, I’m taking great heart from two particular people. Aleks Kashefi tackled the formidable Frog Graham Round recently, and he, like me, had to conquer his fear of the water. This story has given me a huge dollop of encouragement. And secondly, Paula McGuire, who, in April 2018, will attempt to swim around the coast of Britain. That’s 1800 miles! She also has had to overcome her fear of the water…
It’s not the Frog Graham or 1800 miles, but when I enter that water in July and try to swim 1.2 miles, it’s definitely going to be daunting. I’ll be documenting my journey over the next weeks, so follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for some raw unedited content (apologies in advance). There’s a story waiting to be written in the Outlaw Half at Holkham, and I’m nervously excited to find out what it is. Whatever happens, I will give it my absolute best. As my old ma would say, you can do no more than that.