Henley Bridge to Bridge 14k 2015

Time: 4:31:37 [RESULTS]

Medal: Yes

IMG_20150810_192657Over the past few months I’ve had to face reality when it comes to my running – I am lucky if I can manage a 5k before my knee buckles, so with a heavy heart I have finally given up on the dream of running this year’s Berlin marathon.  It will be the last running event I’ll miss, as I sensibly stopped signing up for any more when, a few months in, this injury showed no signs of miraculously disappearing.  Perhaps less sensibly, I continued signing up for events.  If I can run a marathon, why not swim one?

I stumbled upon the Henley Bridge to Bridge swim several months ago, when the distance in time between myself and the event was substantial enough to not worry about the fact that a 14k swim is considered to be equivalent to an ultra in running.  Or that I had never done any open water swimming.  I had FOREVER to train for it.  It would all be fine.  I signed up, and promptly forgot about it.

2015 started with a 6k swim on January 1st.  I was going to dominate this event!

In April, I threw out my back, and swimming was agony.  I rested, and then rested some more.

In July, I realized I had logged basically no swim training worth mentioning for several months, and the Bridge to Bridge was a matter of weeks away.  I got back into the pool, and managed my quickest pool 5k to date: 1:34:43.  My goal when I first re-took up swimming last October was to clock a sub 1:40:00 5k, so I was pretty happy with that!

By the time I was packing for my flight to London, I had tried on my wetsuit once.  In my living room.  In February.  I was prepared.

I flew to London on Saturday morning, and met an old school friend, Lisa, for what turned into a bit of a boozy lunch.  I had on open single ticket to Henley, and we kept deciding I would take ‘the next train’.  I had enough to drink that Lisa said she recognized my ‘drunk smile’.  It was glorious, and I basically need to go back so we can go clubbing at an 80’s club and endure old person hangovers.

11825913_10153584534983383_2106415099134813047_nWith a cloudy mind and a full belly, I boarded the train to Henley, and arrived before 6 to check into my B&B.  Once I had made sure I had left nothing important behind, I wandered back into the centre of Henley for a filling Italian meal to soak up the beer and give me energy for the following morning.  I struggled to finish it, and then waddled back to my B&B, falling asleep pretty quickly.

The main event

I woke up at 5:45 on Sunday morning and had a banana, some lucozade, and a sandwich made by my lovely B&B landlady.  At 6:15 I headed on foot to the Leander Club, and arrived with plenty of time to register, collecting my swim cap and timing chip, and buying one of the event hoodies (even though I didn’t want to jynx my chances by buying one before completing the event, I was afraid they would run out of stock – which they did).  I chatted to a few of the other swimmers on the grass and enjoyed the morning sunshine for a while before heading to the female changing tent to put my wetsuit on.

Source @HenleySwim

Source @HenleySwim

At about 7:45, the green wave (the slowest wave) had their safety briefing.  We split into 3 pods depending on the average speed you planned to maintain.  I joined the quickest of the slow wave, figuring I could always drop down to the slower pod at the 4k stop if I was pushing too hard.  We were told the water temperature was 18.1 degrees Celcius, and that the water quality was the best they had ever recorded.

Source: awoladventure.com

There’s me in the middle! Source: awoladventure.com

After the introduction to our pod leaders, we were instructed to get into the water.  Despite the water temperature being relatively high, it was still cold enough to take my breath away for a couple of minutes as I adjusted.  I put on my goggles and awkwardly flapped towards our pod’s starting point. After a quick good luck, arms started windmilling, and we were off!

Source: awoladventure.com

Source: awoladventure.com

It was my first time swimming outside of a pool, and visibility in the murky water was about a metre.  It turns out that I can’t swim in a straight line when I can’t see where I’m going.  After being kicked a few times, and running into a few people, I found that my best strategy was to swim on the hip of someone about half a metre away (on my left, because I’m blind in one eye and it’s the side I can see easily).  That way I didn’t have to bother with sighting, and as long as I kept them in sight, I trusted I was going in the right direction.  This was to prove mildly disastrous later on, but we’ll get to that…

IMG_20150810_224041At 4k our pod reached Hambledon Lock.  Our target pace should have seen us reach this point at 1:20, but as I was taking in some banana and water from the feed station one of the guys wearing a watch let me know only 1:08 had passed since the start.  No wonder I was feeling like I was working!  I decided to stick with the same pod for the next section though, as it was only 3k, and after a few minutes rest we were being ushered back into the Thames.

The second leg seemed just as quick as the first, and I tried drafting off people’s feet, using the bubbles as a guide, but kept swimming off in the wrong direction, so went back to swimming at someone’s hip, keeping them in sight.  With very little to see apart from my arms and occasionally bits of leaves/plant life floating by, you were pretty much stuck with your own thoughts.  You didn’t even have the benefit of chatting/music like you do in running, just the muffled splash of your own limbs crashing through the water, and occasionally the hiss of a boat engine in the distance.  I sang a few songs in my head, and figured I should aim to sing 10 songs, all the way through, and I’d be at the halfway point.  I ended up with “Saturday Night” by Whigfield on a loop.  For half an hour.  It wasn’t great.

Source: henleyswim.com

Source: henleyswim.com

Finally, the giant orange buoy signaling the swimmers’ exit at Medmenham appeared in view, and I was glad for the rest and the clean water.  By this point I’d managed to take in a few mouthfuls of the Thames, to my dismay.  The rest was short-lived, however, as we were soon back in the water for the next 3k stretch.

After a few minutes I started to notice fatigue in my shoulders, and had a minor panic that I was only halfway and struggling.  I swam alongside one of my pod members, however my tactic of using them as a guide failed spectacularly when I failed to notice them come to an abrupt halt, and also failed to hear them shout out a warning as I continued on, straight into a tree.  In fairness, it was more of a stump with branches growing out of it, but it was definitely out of place in the middle of a river.  I’d managed to whack my right hip bone quick forcefully off a protruding branch, and the pain of that helped to distract me from the pain in my shoulders for the next ten minutes.  Just when I was really starting to struggle, I saw the orange buoy ahead (I’d started doing a bit more of my own sighting by this point!) and rejoiced.  The current must have picked up a bit in this section, because we had made it to Hurley Lock in very good time.

Thankfully the final two section are only about 2k each, so by this point we felt like we were on the home stretch.  The swim from Hurley Lock to Temple lock was much better, and I felt a lot stronger, swimming at the front of the pod for a change, instead of struggling to keep up.  I was in my comfort zone as we swam alongside moored boats, catching glimpses of family members and friends of swimmers walking along the river in support when I turned to breath.  I was actually sad to have to come out at Temple Lock as I had finally found my rhythm, but a drink and a handful of crisps was very welcome.

With renewed enthusiasm, the pod set off towards Marlow on our final stretch.  We kept a steady pace as a pod, but then more and more people drifted behind, so I just decided to continue on my own for the final kilometre at a comfortable pace with a couple of guys from the pod.  Soon, on the horizon, we could see a crowd along the river bank which could only mean that the second bridge was just around the bend.

A view of the finish from where some of the spectators were standing

A view of the finish from where some of the spectators were standing

Finally, I spotted the bridge, and smiled underwater, not even caring that I was exposing my teeth to swan poop, motor oil from boats, and whatever else the Thames had to throw at me.  I was nearly finished!  I probably sped up a bit near and for the first time could hear cheering from the crowds on the bridge.  I swam underneath it, climbed up the ladder on the bank, and crossed the timing mat.  My first open water swim, my first swim in my wetsuit, and I couldn’t have chosen a better event for it!

The aftermath

As soon as I handed back the timing chip, I headed for the hot drink section and grabbed a small hot chocolate (but ended up spilling about half of it over myself).  I chatted with some of my fellow pod members, and then picked up my bag and headed for the showers.  I’m glad I didn’t hang around, as the showers became pretty packed once I had finished.

Swimmers coming into the finish

Swimmers coming into the finish

Clean and in dry clothes, I gathered my stuff and headed across the bridge to collect my medal, grab an ice-cream, and spend 20 minutes spectating in the sunshine.  Once I’d had enough, I ambled towards the shuttle bus to Henley and grabbed a seat next to one of the guys I had been swimming with.  We chatted about running, swimming, and cycling for the journey, and he gave me a lift to the centre of Henley so I could grab a celebratory pint, but I didn’t catch his name.  I stumbled upon Henley’s oldest building, handily also a pub, and settled in for a cold one.

IMG_20150810_192727I used the free wifi to ensure everyone I had not drowned, and felt pretty content after one drink, so I headed back out into the sunshine for a leisurely walk back to the B&B, via a couple of local shops.

As soon as I was back in my room, I hung my wetsuit up to dry and assumed the familiar post-event position, spending the next two hours alternating between napping and finishing my holiday read:

IMG_20150809_151732Eventually my stomach was making threatening sounds, so I managed to haul myself back into Henley for a cheeseburger and a beer at around 6pm.  By about 7pm, I was experiencing some deja vu:

Book: complete.

Book: complete.

I bet you guys are dying to know what I did next.  I’ll give you three guesses…

IMG_20150809_195343Apart from the very vivid realization that my shoulder muscles had done a hard shift every time I lifted the remote, I felt surprisingly alright after my first swim ‘marathon’.  It was a fantastic event, and now that the memory of the 7-10k section is fading, I’m even considering entering it again next year.

I think it has also been adequate training for my 5k open water swim at the end of the month.

Ditching Fraserburgh

This Sunday I was supposed to be running the Fraserburgh half marathon with a bunch of people I am slowly getting to know (including two I plan on running with in Paris next April!).  This Sunday, however, I will be at a 3 year old’s birthday party, desperately looking for a non-sticky place to rest my weary legs.

Ian has made no secret of the fact that my running commitments irritate him because it means we “can’t do anything fun” during the weekends.  I knew his niece’s birthday was coming up and mentioned it would be fun to go, but I had assumed it would be the following weekend, as it’s closer to her actual birthday.  I assumed incorrectly.  And so, to stop a little girl crying at her birthday party (she thinks I am so cool I ‘don’t poo’) as she would obviously be upset should I not attend, I’m giving Fraserburgh a miss.

Out of a sense of guilt, I have been trying to schedule in enough runs to rack up 13.1 miles to make up for what I should have been doing.  This has led to some dubious decision making…

Last night I went to spin class for the first time since before I went to Houston.  It was brutal.  Afterwards, I slipped into my brand new swimsuit to do some laps in the pool at the gym, and try to teach Grant how to swim.  It has been probably close to a decade since I was last in a pool, and considering I was a (pretty good) competitive swimmer in my school days, I thought it was a real shame I had neglected swimming for so long.

After messing about in the pool for a while, I attempted some laps of breastroke, front crawl, and butterfly (I have always hated backstroke).  I busted out the old strokes as though I was still a teenager who swam for 2 hours a night and competed on weekends.  And after a few laps?  I was totally out of breath.  I think I’m going to try to keep up some kind of swimming regime once or twice a week, because even though it was hard – it was fun!

When I got home after the gym that night, I was pretty tired and fell asleep easily.  I set my alarm early as I wanted to get a run done before I had to shower in the morning.

When the alarm went off at FOUR FOURTY-FIVE IN THE FREAKING MORNING, I gave myself a stern talking to in my head.  My resolve was too strong, however, and I dragged myself out of bed, threw on my running gear, grabbed my ipod shuffle and shoved my keys into my bra.  Bring it, morning.

Morning brought it.  It was freezing, my lungs were burning, my legs (and entire body) were aching from the punishment I gave it less than 10 hours earlier, I didn’t have any breakfast, and I opted for no music since some of the streets I was running down had some wobbly drunks that gave off a bit of a rapey vibe.  Every time I looks down at my Garmin it was showing 10:xx minute miles.  Pathetic.  I was so glad to get home after 6 and a bit miles.  I was more glad to get into my heated apartment.  As evidence of this morning’s cold, check out the frost that accumulated on my headband:

I wasted no time getting into the warm shower (which felt like burning on my calves which had foolishly been exposed in my 3/4 length running tights), and then started beautifying myself in anticipation of work and parents’ evening.  Despite how gross I had felt earlier, I was super stoked that I was now free to come straight home after work, collapse on the sofa, and eat dinner.  Witness the glow of happiness at 6:36 am:

Despite feeling like there would be nothing more wonderful than crawling into a warm bed all day, and blurred vision after about 6pm, I do not regret my extra early run session.  Heading home after work, guilt-free, was amazing.  Probably not amazing enough to repeat the experience tomorrow, however.

Speaking of work – which I don’t often do – I have been looking at WW1 poetry with one of my classes.  They’ve just started writing a critical essay, but they have also written ‘letters from the trenches’ after investigating the horrific conditions the soldiers faced on the front line.  I thought they were so good I decided to devote an entire section on the display board to them, and using only supplies from a recycle bin, went about trying to create a masterpiece.  It could do with a few more touches, but I’m pretty pleased at how it turned out (hint: it’s meant to look a bit like a trench):

I’m particularly proud of my rat silhouettes!

And finally (dudes can tune out now), I went shopping last weekend.  Those of you who follow me on instagram will already be aware of my obsession with my latest purchase, but for everyone else, I bought some kick-ass shoes!

January 3rd: running, pumping and swimming.

Managed to haul myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5:15am today.  Disgusting, right?  Anyway, after a day of inactivity I felt that I should really put in a good effort today, so I strapped on my Garmin, threw a few pieces of strawberry licorice down my throat (for the energy, OK?), and chugged half a Gatorade before slipping out the front door.  And holy shit, was it warm.  About 3k in I passed a dry-cleaners that has one of those LED displays outside with the time, temperature and price information.  25 degrees Celsius at 6:15 am.  Crap.

Perseverance led me to totting up the longest run I’ve done in a long, long time (years), and I stopped my Garmin at 8.45 miles.  Sweet.  If I could do that today, the Arbroath 10 miler and the Global Energy Inverness Half Marathon are definitely achievable, so I was feeling pretty positive.

Deciding not to shower (and therefor choosing to offend anyone within a 10 foot radius of my body), I then went to a 9:30 Body Pump class, as I hadn’t done weights for a week because the freaking gyms in this town have ridiculous holidays.  Seriously, Christmas Day I understand, and even New Year’s Day, to a point.  Nothing more.  Anyway, the muscles I worked the hardest are whatever muscles are used to create a fierce grimace – that class was mega painful.  I’ll take a mental note never to skip pump for a week, it’s a freaking killer.

Upon returning home, I had no choice but to finally shower.  I was receiving unpleasant looks from the family.  After lounging around for a couple of hours, and getting back sweat from merely sitting down (totally hot – the temperature, not my perspiration predicament), the family went on an outing to Hume lake, where my brother worked on his tan and I worked on not letting my corpse flesh disintegrate after going so long without direct sunlight.  Seriously, I am white.

Board shorts and a sports bra are a fashionable alternative to swimwear if you don't own a bathing suit. Fact.

Anyway, we have just stuffed ourselves with Albury’s finest fish and chips, washed down with the champagne that should have been enjoyed at the bells on New Year’s Eve – if everybody hadn’t crashed out and just decided ‘screw this, I’m tired’.  Next up?  Probably another shower, then some monopoly, followed by an early night, because waking up before 6am on your holiday isn’t lame enough.

On a completely separate note, I have discovered dailymile.com.    It’s like Facebook for fitness fanatics, I already love it.  I wanted a place where I could keep track of my training/total miles for 2012 without really worrying about performing basic maths and adding miles myself, so this is perfect!  If anyone is on it, you can search for Raquel P.