Oh, how to start....well, I'll first mention the event. The Great East Swim is one of the 5 event weekends of the Great Swim Series, which is brought to us by the same people that organise the Great Run Series, but with fewer events on the calendar when comparing the 2 sports. With events "run" in the North (Windermere), East (Alton Water, Suffolk = No theme park at this Alton), Manchester, London (Newham), and finally the Great Scottish Swim (Loch Lomond).
Each host 1 mile waves, and dependant on location, there are 1/2 mile, up to 10km events to enter, and some Swim-Run events as well. Though, we'll stick to just swimming here!
Why do I choose the Great East Swim - well, it only takes about an hour to drive there, so no need to spend on extra overnight stays - loads of stalls are setup for the event day, plenty of free parking, and the full range of distances to choose from.
The swim at Windermere offers all distances as well, but you really have to make a weekend of going there - and with 2 mile swims only being done on Friday and late Sunday - and during term time, means I can't really go to that one with my family.
The Newham swim added a 2 mile distance event this year, but was the day before the Great Newham Run - and since I am making a real effort this year with running (see my next blog), I didn't want to do my preferred distance swim then.
The Manchester swim is currently only offering 1 mile swims, so is not on my radar at present.
Finally, the Scottish swim is on my wish list for the future (it is on in late August, and run over a Friday and Saturday, so realistically will have to be part of a longer stay up in lovely Scotland during the holidays).
Back to Suffolk....I had previously participated in the 2 mile event in 2015 - having taken up swimming again in late 2014 - basically, the first time of swimming properly since my Junior School days. Back then, I was a breast stroke swimmer, (well, no Adam Peaty!!!) who could also manage a length of Butterfly - roll forward around 30 years...and it was finally time to learn how to swim front crawl properly (I remember never being able to perform tumble turns in the past, so I always kept away from those where you needed to do that (back stroke and front crawl). After a couple months tuition with a family friend (3 swims a week), I had got into swimming 200m- 400m nonstop FC swim sets. In November 2014, I joined up with K.A.S improver swimming sessions, for my 1st taste of proper lane swimming along with additional coaching.
This is where the K.A.S sessions are great workouts for those at any level. The coaches there are great at assessing your level, and getting you into the correct lane for your speed. (It's not all about speed, improving your technique and adjusting your swim style to what they teach, is certainly helping to improve my stamina and therefore, speed. More importantly, my confidence has improved greatly (in the pool)....enough of the past now....
Roll forward to April 2016 - I had finally got time in my training calendar, to properly concentrate on swimming again - which was a good thing with the event only about 8 weeks away - so, I decided to have a go at swimming 3200m in my local pool again, during one of the 1hr 30min evening fitness sessions. I managed it in around 1hr 15mins, 2000m in full FC, then the final 1200m using a pull buoy (making me isolate my arms, but also lifting my legs to close to horizontal, and therefore mimicking the buoyancy you get from wearing a wetsuit). Job done, and swim done all in FC (In 2015, it was always a mixture of FC and Breast Stroke for that distance), and I had managed to find my "economic" pacing.
I then made sure to train at Tri Farm (though still doing the K.A.S swims on a Tuesday evening), having trained at Tri Farm in 2015, for the 2 mile swim then, and also took part in the Tri Farm 2015 Sprint Distance Tri there. With opening times during the OW swim season, from 8:30am until 2:00pm at weekends and B/Hs, and 5pm thru 8pm each weekday, it allows for more time to swim there, with lifeguards onsite, a place to get drinks and cake, changing rooms (no showers), it is ideal for getting those OW training miles in - think of the OW swims as distance swims, and familiarisation of OW swimming, rather than the organised swim sets you get at pool swim sessions. Also means you can try out your wetsuit - and see if you need to apply any glide - before, I found I always chaffed at the back of my neck - so had to apply glide stick there, but with my new HUUB wetsuit - no such issues at all.
On to event day - and with a start time of 10am, I aimed to get up to the event for around 9am. No problem in the route up the A12, and when you arrive, you are directed on to fields next to the lake to park. Time to then follow the flow of people to the event location - through the avenue of stalls, and left to the changing tent, down to get changed into your wetsuit, pop on the timing chip to you ankle, tag and deposit your bag, having taken out my numbered pink hat (both sent to you in the post, 2-3 weeks before) and goggles, I headed down to the check-in for my swim wave - i.e. up to 30 minutes before the swim time, and no later than 10 minutes before - else you probably won't be allowed in. They write your number on your hand when entering into the "holding" pen, having checked your name against your number.
Time to then take a short dip in the lake - this is to acclimatise yourself to the water, so I get some water in the suit, get my breathing right, and then do a short swim up and back to the exit and back into the pen. When about 10 minutes from the start, it's warm-up time with Mr Motivator, which is always good to do before a swim (so I wonder why I never do that before a regular swim session!!!)
That's when I remembered that Dawn and Chantelle from the club were also swimming the 2 mile event - but trying to find 2 faces in around 300 people is not easy - so I just concentrated on the job at hand...
10am ticks around, and the horn sounds - some people make a dash for the water, and other stroll in - since the start time goes for each individual when they pass under the start banner (and over the timing mats), I get into a jog after then - it means the area isn't so congested, and that meant, for a 2nd year running - there was no kicking/pulling that can occur at the front of a race - and I am allowed to get into my rhythm, stoke, breathing pattern (bilateral) and general flow, with no worries or stresses or panic attacks - so what if people are going faster, so what if I am last, I am going to do it at my pace, with only my own target to try and beat from 2015.
I concentrated on keeping long stroke pattern, and rotating from the core. We were warned at the start, that the 1st 200m stretch was probably the "worst" stretch of water, with the wind being quite fast, and causing the water to be quite choppy - but to my delight, the water seemed calm as anything, and I was able to glide past a few people and get among people at around my pace.
Nothing to report on the 1st lap - other than remembering, that when you get to the 1/2 mile marker, and make a right turn into the "top" straight, the markers seem an awful long way apart from each other - perceiving distance at "sea level" is a tricky thing, but I know it's just a case of just having to swim on and on, keeping control, pushing harder at times, recovering at others. Making sure you sight properly is also essential - and also something that I'm not too great at - I basically swum a slighter wider circle around the course, than I could have done - it meant for a very smooth swim, but longer than it could have been!
Now, onto the turn at the end of lap 1, and I found the 200m stretch they mentioned (it's the stretch between the swim exit and swim start points on the shore - and I believe, where you pass by the feed station for those that were swimming the 10km swim). If I say that, it felt like a speed boat was zooming along, making tight turns, and causing the wash to go straight over my head, that would be a good description of what it felt like to me. So, time for breathing just off to the left (stopped the bilateral breathing for a while) and fight my way along the little rough patch of water, back to where the 1st lap started again, and into the second lap.
Second lap almost done, and feeling strong when getting to the finishing straight - time to put in lots of kicks and cruise up and out of the finish, and over the timing mat. Then it's through the "check out" barriers (the times are already recorded before here, so no need to rush) - took off and handed in my timing chip - caught up with the missus and daughter -
- who had been struggling in a windy/chilly morning (it had been warmer in the water than out of it!)
I also now managed to bump into the ladies from the team (well, they found me) and we manage to get a pic taken together.
My time - well - about 10 seconds different from my 2015 time - 1:09 and change - I managed to add in around 150m more to the 2 mile distance, so my pace per 100m was up from the previous year, so all in - and with about 2/3 less swim training time than the 2015 event, I was pleased to finish, approximately, half way in the pack of around 300 people for the 2 mile wave, and had done it all using front crawl. Ready to take it on again next year.
Also, to note, the finish pack, along with the medal, and drink and few adverts/offers, also has a couple big bags of the Jacobs Crackers to munch on whilst walking back to the car - well, more accurately, for my daughter to eat with me, and that was a most welcome salt boost for me, and reward for my Ellie - who will be an OW swimmer in the future - as soon as she's old enough to take it up.
So ends my Great East Swim write-up - next up will be my Great Newham London 10k Run from July - hopefully a briefer read for you all, well, for those who made it through to the end it will be!