By Nicky Jenkins
PART 1 – THE SWIM (LA NATATION), CASTLE SERIES GAUNTLET (MIDDLE DISTANCE/HALF IRON)
I’ve made it to the start line. A few tears and a mild panic attack or two on the way, but I’m here and I’m smiling.
I’m stood in the rain (yes it’s raining – and even a bit chilly) and some bloke is trying to give a safety briefing to 400 people in wet suits and blue hats, in 2 different languages. At first glance, it appears that 99% of the Gauntlet competitors are young, fit, tall, strong, buff males, and the two other English women who have managed to seek me out to chat to in the crowd are the only other female competitors. This is not strictly true, the females making up a grand 12.5% of the field (I worked it out after because I’m a bit anal like that). One of the Brit ladies asks me if I’m “actually” doing the whole thing? I must’ve looked a bit confused, she laughs and explains she’s part of a relay and she’s only doing the swim. Funny, ‘cos right now that’s not amusing me.
So, it turns out that the water quality is a bit poor – safe to swim as far as bugs/germs are concerned, but far too weedy – so they’ve changed the route. It then takes 2 men 3 attempts in 2 different languages to explain to 400 people in blue hats (getting cold in the rain) what the new swim route actually is. Instead of the planned one long circuit of a ‘T’ shape, we now have to do the ‘I’ of the ‘T’ and then 2 times round a much smaller than initially planned ‘T’. Confused? Yep, me too. All I know is, from the size of the revised route, the tight turns around the buoys, the volume of the swimming crowd – it’s going to be MAYHEM!!
Initiate Plan A = Stay out of the way, take your time, and try not to drown.
We finally get in the water – after a further safety “description” of the cycle route and run route and any obvious potential calamities along the way (in 2 languages) – and we are already about 10 minutes past our allocated start time. The water is awful. Awful awful. Weeds up to my waist and as I dip my head in to acclimatise, I realise there is zero visibility. It also has a very pungent smell. I love swimming, I really do. Just not today.
We set off at a slow pace from the back and I realise I am already in the wrong position; at 2-3 metres away from the bank the water is unswimmable for all the weeds. I breaststroke a bit, but it’s not really any easier going. Maybe they have just put us in here to dredge it ready for the Olympic distance!! I make an effort to get my head in and do some front crawl but I am struggling as to what to do with my breathing – I don’t even want to open my mouth in there – never mind do any letting of air out. And then the man next to me decides he needs to give me a big hug around the neck and I don’t get my head out fast enough and swallow a big load of water. I am a little sick as I cough it out. I do love swimming, I really do. I breaststroke a bit more to compose myself, still coughing dramatically, and try to figure a way around without drowning anyone, including myself. People are swimming in all sorts of directions, crossing over each other – can they not spot/sight?? and as suspected, the turns around the corner buoys are just ridiculous. People are walking in places as the weeds are too thick to swim in. Crack on Jenkins, crack on. I do some front crawl, interspersed with breaststroke, and eventually manage to get some kind of a rhythm going. I am now a bit more relaxed, all time goals out the window. Every now and then I pull a few weeds up with my stroke. They are hanging off my arm, all over my hat and my goggles, stuck to my feet. And that smell!!!
Finally we paddle round the last buoy – heads up in the melee – and I spot John on the bank. I give him a thumbs up. “Nice work Jenkins,” he shouts and this makes me smile as it’s probably the most appalling and ungainly swim of my life. Nice to see him there though. I crack on for the last stretch and have never been quite so glad to reach the shore. There is a funny ramp we have to climb onto to get out and the marshal seems to be intent on helping everyone else out of the water apart from myself. It’s OK, I can manage, don’t worry about me.
I grin at John, who has made his way around the bank to the swim exit, and he is full of praise and support. I am struggling with my wet suit, so get him to unzip me before I make my way up the steps of the Chateau into transition. He told me afterwards that I looked a bit like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, sporting an attractive dark, dirty patch under my nose. Lovely.
I’m not really tired or out of breath, as it’s not been a very quick swim from my standards (1.9km in 49 mins), but I’m still not very speedy up the steps, taking my time. The nerves seem to have dissipated somewhat and I feel more relaxed about getting on the bike than I have done in ages.
Wriggle my way out of my wet suit and then start the process of getting my shit together. Helmet on, mouthful of Chia Charge, drink of water. All my stuff is wet. Wet socks on, wet shoes on, mouthful of Chia Charge, drink of water. I can’t see out of my glasses and have nothing dry to wipe them on so stuff them in my back pocket for now along with an energy bar. Final mouthful of Chia Charge, race belt on (loaded with gels), gloves on, and away we go – push to the “bike out” then we go all the way around the ring of transition, under the inflatable, round the side, under the next inflatable and then finally we can mount the bike. Nice going Jenkins – a whopping 7 minutes in transition.
Phase 1 “successfully” complete.