He was faster than me

It’s Not A Race

I hate racing. That’s not to say I’d never do it, but there’d have to be reason beyond the arbitrary “I can beat Bob”. (What’s Bob ever done to me?)

But recently I’ve been in a position where I’ve “sort of raced”.

Parkrun. It’s not a race. It’s a timed fun run. So you run as fast as you can and at the end, you’re given a time and a position out of the number of runners participating in that session. So perhaps you ran 5km in 26:34 and came 88th out of 200 runners. It’s not a race, but your mate might not wait for you.

And the charity Swim for Logan in Penzance. That’s not a race, that’s a fun swim – for an extremely good cause. A timed fun swim, where they give you a swim hat and number and when you get back they log you in (for reasons of safety) and then publicise your time and position on the website. Some of the swimmers clear a mile in less than 20 minutes. But it’s not a race.

I quite like being timed; it’s interesting to know how long you’d take to get somewhere. But I can’t get my head around hurting my body just to beat someone else’s hurting body (yet I don’t like being left behind).

So the other day, it was lovely to receive an invitation to the beach and a group swim with drinks after — yey! This is what it’s all about. A chill out. Sport + friends + beer – what more could you ask? I signed up and asked, ‘Are we swimming anywhere in particular?’

Yes, I was told, it’s the Newlyn to Penzance swim, bit less than a mile, slap on your goggles and swim as fast as you can – but it’s NOT A RACE. It’s “just a bit of fun”. Not even timed.

Oh my effing bees, I’ve signed up for another Not-Race (race).

I’ll be standing there, on the side, listening to people say, ‘Oh, I’m really slow,’ which translates roughly as, ‘You personally would have to pop a lung just to see my feet.’ I’ll be flailing in the churned surf, getting kicked in the head and gagging on brine, wondering if there aren’t easier ways of reaching beer?

If I can, I’ll go, because they’re really lovely people and also, BEER. Maybe the prospect of a pub at the end will lend me wings. Or fins. Or the motivation to move at double speed? I do like a beer. I even hurled myself into the sea today to practise, only to find it was about two feet deep and whistling with onshore wind. Maybe tomorrow.

Still, to me racing kind of diminishes the real enjoyment, or excitement, of the swim (or run) because you can neither enjoy someone’s company, nor go adventuring.

Left to my own devices, I swim like a feral thing: I slip in unnoticed, swim alone, and creep home via the back lanes. Sometimes I’m fast, other times slow, but I set the pace. If someone wants to swim with me, they can either go at my pace (nice) or slower (I’ll wait). When we get to the pub, we’ll drink – and probably eat – together.

I once followed a shark into the depths. Diving.

I saw its tail going around the corner of a reef, so I followed, camera in hand. It was a white tip, cruising at about 40m. So I dived down and gave chase. It sank to about 45m – a bit too deep for me – but I could still see it clearly, so I pressed on. I swam as fast as I could, with fins, and got almost close enough to snatch a picture when it saw me on its tail and flicked away. It was too fast and too deep. Only when the shark was gone did I turn and realise that I was a long way – a mile or so? – from the rest of the group, deep underwater in the middle of the Indian ocean. But when I looked over my other shoulder, there was my dive buddy, his face a foot from mine. He was the only one who knew that I liked to have someone on my shoulder. Beside me. Chasing the excitement into the blue.



(*Update: the race was postponed due to weather, so did an aquathon instead.)

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