The Mass Swim Start

the Burpengary Pool

The pool, not at ‘rush hour’

From my obsessive research I have learned that at most triathlon races, the event begins with the sound of a gun firing and the athletes sprinting down a beach to crashing waves, where everyone must dive in to the water and start swimming toward a buoy or some kind of marker. As a result of this mass start, you have 200-odd people pushing towards one small spot in the distant water, trying to swim in the exact same patch of water. Inevitably it seems, I will be kicked, punched, swum over.

I didn’t know I was going to get a chance to train for this, but the opportunity was thrust upon me yesterday morning.

This week at work has been a little more hectic than usual. Luckily I knew it would be hectic, so I was mentally prepared and had spent a few hours running around the house like a headless chook on Sunday afternoon making lunches and meals for the week. I also moved around the schedule for my blog posts and training sessions, although it meant breaking all my usual routines. As a result, to get to my swim yesterday morning I had to set my alarm for 4 am; a bit earlier than usual. Which meant I got to the pool at ‘rush hour’ and every single lane was already taken.

Standing at the edge of the pool and looking forlornly around, I had a quick chat to Kirk, who was there to observe some teenagers showing off their fish impressions whilst simultaneously screaming to each other about One Direction. Kirk was clearly king of the centre, in his element at that early hour and surrounded by a level of proficiency that most land-based mammals can only dream of, and which he had helped to create.

Kirk gazed over his empire and agreed there were no lanes available.  I announced that I would go and swim in the smaller (25 metre) pool until a lane became free and King Kirk decreed that he would give me a wave of his hand when someone left.

Jumping in, I was surprised to find that the 25 metre pool was much hotter than the 50 metre pool. I got in at about 5.30am and already it was 27 degrees outside, so the hot water was unnecessary and unwelcome. They also don’t have those floaty string things separating each lane in the smaller pool for some reason, although there are lines marked on the floor to follow. In short, everything felt weird. I left Felicity the Float on the side and pushed off from the wall, conscious of the elderly ladies in the lane next to me who were apparently taking a morning stroll in the pool, as you do. I felt sure I could feel them telepathically chiding me for creating too much splash already.

The heat of the water was yucky. My heart beat harder than usual as it pumped more blood around, trying to keep me cool but making me feel ill. Being a shorter pool, I felt like I was stopping to turn around every few seconds; just as I would get into a nice rhythm or good form for 2 metres, bam! I hit the wall and would have to turn around and start again.

I don’t know how many lengths I did in that pool, but I didn’t use my float and I wish I had kept count because it was a lot. I was in there for about half an hour before I received a royal wave, the signal to haul myself over the edge of the pool and run into the evacuated lane of the big pool.

The cooler water of the 50 metre pool was absolute bliss. After the stifling shallowness of the hot baby pool, the depth also felt liberating. I wondered if indeed I am turning into the mermaid I imagined myself to be, many weeks ago. I immediately felt happy and relaxed in the 50m pool.

In my excitement, I didn’t even stop to look around; I took a short breath, ducked my head under and set off.  As I got to the end of my first length, a woman approximately my age who looked like a real triathlete leant down to me.

Umph muh mumph muhm mumph? She asked. I took my earplugs out and spat water in her general direction.

‘Do you mind if I share your lane with you?’ She repeated ‘All the others are taken.’

‘I am not very good,’ I replied.  Although I assume she had just watched me do my length so she probably already knew this.  ‘I might hit you, but ok, if you don’t mind me being useless!’

She probably said thank you or something; I didn’t hear. She dived in without a second thought and was off swimming like a professional before I had reattached my earplugs.

I ducked my head under and kicked off, suddenly determined to try and keep pace with my new friend. I swam and swam, and at about the 40 metre mark I felt the water moving around me like a wave had washed through. As I reached the end of the length and looked up, I realised the wave was Her passing me as she swam back the other way.  Hmmm, swimming next to people might not be as bad as my research had suggested.

The headstart she’d had didn’t appear to have grown in length during the first length, so I permitted myself to believe I had kept pace. I couldn’t afford to waste time, so I ducked my head back under and set off again to chase her. About half way along the length I realised I had drifted directly into the middle of the lane.  I had been trying to keep to the left for my first length, to give her space. Now I wondered whether she had seen me drifting right and had moved to the opposite side to get past me. I didn’t want to break my new rule (of looking down) to look forward to try and spy her.  I pushed on and tried to correct my path back to the left hand side, and before I knew it my fingernails were digging into something soft. I hit her with my right arm.

I choked, splashed around, said sorry and carried on. She was already gone. I felt embarrassed, but I also felt that I had given her fair warning of my ineptitude and she had accepted the terms and conditions, so we were all good. Plus, she was clearly a real triathlete – she was very athletic looking – so I assumed it was not her first rough and tumble in water.

The good news was, she still hadn’t broken away from me much and was nowhere near to lapping me. The race was still on.

I did 4 lengths and at the end of the four, Kirk was standing at my lane number next to Felicity waiting for me. So I forgot to check how I had fared in my first swimming race, but I think we can assume I didn’t win.

‘The lane next to you is free if you want it,’ Kirk said.

I scooted over before he even finished the sentence.My first mass swim start training session was completed and I gave myself a pass rate of 50%.

‘How am I doing?’ I asked Kirk.

‘You are a thousand times better than last time,’ he nodded. ‘The next thing you need to do is try to breathe in while your front arm is still extended; you are breathing a bit late so that your arm is underneath you when you inhale. Try and leave your leading arm extended just for a split second while you breathe. You will be more streamlined and you won’t need to do as many strokes.’

Doing less strokes sounded good, but what sounded better was that Kirk seemed to be giving me a more technical tip, based on improving my good form, not learning how to swim.  I have progressed to the point that I can start to get good. Because apparently I can now swim.

Kirk demonstrated a rhythm for me to follow and I did two more lengths trying to keep my arm stroke extended for a bit longer, breathing as soon as my hand hit the water rather than halfway though my stroke. It wasn’t very good, but Kirk watched and said I had the right idea.

‘Keep practising that’  he instructed and went back to his pod of dolphins. My time was up and I had about 15 minutes to shower and change before rushing to get the train I needed. 

Masterful Swimming and a Small Taste of Swimming in Close Proximity to Other Triathletes.  Not a great headline, but a great start to my day.  It was bound to go downhill from there (and it did) but the sweet memories sustained me through the worst of it.  I am a mermaid.

4 thoughts on “The Mass Swim Start

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