June 26, 2016 at 12:04
Posted by Rachael Woolston
Taking on a fitness challenge, whatever this is for YOU personally is guaranteed to make you feel nervous, anxious and just a little bit sick. BUT it is the willingness to take on challenges, in all aspects of life, that helps change you. We’ve created an entire list of events that you can train with us and take part in this year at Fitbitch – find them HERE. But I don’t think it’s fair to challenge the Fitbitch community and not follow this maxim myself…
If someone had told me, even two months ago, that I’d be swimming up a river at 5.30am in the morning, I would have said they were mad. I was useless at swimming as a kid, spending weeks trying to get that stupid Bronze swimming badge at school, unable to pick up the rubber brick off the swimming pool floor. Remember that? Maybe you don’t if you’re not a child of the 1970s but you get the picture.
But at the beginning of the year, I started taking a Pool to Pier swimming course in Brighton, first doing lessons once a week in the pool and then going into the sea. My very first session, I swam 1.8km. Before that, I’d only ever thought myself capable of swimming 400m in any one go. Amazing what you can do if someone just tells you to do it.
Then in June I took on my first open water sprint triathlon in a reservoir, which meant swimming 750m. It was a revelation. Up until that point I’d only done 3 triathlons before (one per year!) in a swimming pool. Having to wait for hours to get into the water, then worrying about getting in the way of people wanting to swim faster always made it an anxious experience. Swimming in a reservoir however on a gorgeous sunny morning in June? What a difference.
Which is how I found myself signing up to an Olympic distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike ride, 10km run) just three weeks later, put on by Raw Energy Pursuits. Did I think I was capable of it? Frankly, no. I just signed up and figured that it would all work out. Worse comes to worse, I’d breast stroke my way to the finish of the swim. But then it’s quite easy to feel laid-back when pressing Pay on a computer screen. It was NOT how I felt as I stood on the riverbank at 5.15am in the morning, looking at a chocolate coloured river, strewn with seaweed and the bobbing yellow hats of the faster swimmers all ready for the off.
But then the beauty of a triathlon compared to a running race, is that it all starts very quickly so you don’t have time to get too terrified. In this situation it was faster than most race starts for the Arun river is fast flowing and we had to do an out and back, which meant doing it before the river picked up speed. Into the water, which wasn’t too cold and then we were off, no big race guns or countdown. Big thumbs up for the race organisers who managed to pull this off seamlessly.
There was flailing arms, seaweed and a sky just tinged pink with the rising sun as I set off down the river. Growing up watching Jaws as a child, I’d always been terrified of things touching me in the water. I’m not sure what has changed but I felt really relaxed even as I swam through pockets of seaweed, had my feet touched by swimmers behind me and the bubbles of kicking feet in front of me. It was amazing. And I’m sure my relaxed state of mind was partly due to the number of kayakers who were on the river, looking out for all the swimmers.
Out of the water under 35 minutes, I was running to transition not quite able to believe I’d just swam in a river and more to the point, why had I not bloody done it before! The thing about challenges is sometimes, we can let them grow so big in our minds that we drop out and don’t step up to it. And yet nine times out of ten, it ends up being something that can be just that little bit life changing. That sounds like a big claim, I know, but achieve something that you think is totally beyond you and it leaves you thinking, ‘Well, what else can I achieve?’
As usual, I seemed to spend three times as long in transition as everyone else, trying to have a chat with the others shrugging off their wetsuits who were trying to be serious then it was off for a beautiful ride through lovely roads around West Sussex just outside of Arundel Castle. I’m pretty inept at taking on gels when I run, getting it all over my hands. It appears the same is true of doing it on a bike except that when you’re sitting down, it means you also get it all over your legs, and your hands. And of course, my handlebars.
Off the bike, I grabbed my running shoes and took off for a two lap, absolutely beautiful trail run through the countryside around Arundel Castle. My feet were frozen from being on the bike so it was a bit like running on wooden blocks. But by the second lap my feet started warming up and my right foot in particular felt strange. I pushed on, the sun shining as I ran up the trail and out onto the open green, running past a little chapel of the castle before running straight through town past the castle to the finish.
It was only on finishing the race that I was finally able to take my shoe off and discover that the carefully placed gel, put in my shoe so that I could grab it off the bike had actually slipped right into my shoe (I had wondered where it had gone!) and I’d run the entire 10km with a great big gel sachet by my big toe. Ouch!
The Arundel Triathlon is put on by Raw Energy Pursuits. Well organised, on time and a great race pack which included a t-shirt (a tech t-shirt may have been preferable but small gripe) and snack bar. No medal but they do organise a free breakfast bap from the riverside cafe. I’ve done events with this company before and they get the big thumbs up from me, particularly for the huge number of marshalls they have on the river, out on the bike course and on the run.
Fancy joining us for training for the Brighton & Hove triathlon in September? They offer distances as small as 25o metres as well as the opportunity to join a relay team if you only want to do one of the disciplines. We currently have around 20 women interested in taking part including lots looking for teams. If you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.orgTweet