It’s no secret that I’m terrified of racing, but I belong to a running club and it’s a bit lame to sit on the sidelines refusing to join in, so I’ve been attending the timed events described as “not a race” – which sometimes leave me feeling as if I’ve run a race by accident.
So this week I bit the bullet and did an aquathon – a swimming and running, two-part race – on purpose. To conquer the fear.
Our local aquathon is a 200m swim followed by a 2-mile run so I figured it should be easy — but still I was scared.
(1) Coming last. Of course it doesn’t matter but still, Gaaah! I reckon we evolved to run to either catch food or avoid being caught by predators — so historically, coming last could mean starving or, worse, being eaten. Being eaten is the one that resonates with me.
(2) Accidentally breaking the rules by e.g. using the wrong kit, exiting the pool via the wrong steps, or turning too early – basically any form of mistake that might potentially upset other people – cringe. (Not that I’d either notice or care if anyone else did it, and the lovely marshals are super-friendly and helpful.)
(3) The transition: I love swimming and running, but the chance of me getting both of my trainers onto wet feet with sea-cold fingers and slippery laces, in a hurry, is likely to result in all kinds of ungainly, one-legged/one-shoed fumbling, and me coming last (see (1)).
However, none of these fears is at all rational in the context of jogging along the prom with a bunch of mates, so I hurled myself in and hoped for the best.
Me, sopping wet, not noticing the mad arrow , running in sheer relief at having got both my shoes on
I wasn’t sure what to expect but as it turns out, the Jubilee Pool aquathon was relaxed and well organised, and beautifully designed for scared newbies like me.
Numbered participants line up to drop into the pool at 30-second intervals, swim 200m, exit the pool beside two unmissable, yellow-jacketed marshals, yank on their trainers, then run to Newlyn and back (a mile each way / 2 miles in total). So you finish back near the start (you can leave your stuff at the pool), and because of the staggered start, you don’t really know who’s ahead and who’s behind — you just swim and run as fast as you can, shout your number (or show your numbered hands) at the finish line, and the individual times are all worked out and published later.
If you don’t care where you came, you don’t have to look. Just as the “not a race” events often include a racing element, this event includes people who just jog along beside family and friends to be sociable.
Some participants are clearly seasoned triathletes, others not. Some are fully able-bodied, others aren’t. Some were assisted by other runners (organised in advance). Some do the whole thing in less than 15 minutes, others take over half an hour. Everyone’s really smiley and friendly and in it for the fun.
I enjoyed the swim — it’s hard not to: the Jubilee Pool is beautiful and the water cool (yey, that swimmer who swam along gasping, “F’kin cold, f’kin COLD!” Sure, it’s not heated yet but you warm up in moments). The swim’s really short so it’s easy to just bang it out. If I’d not been busy watching people, I’d have really hammered this and if I do it again, I will. The transition was pure evil as expected and took way longer than I was comfortable with: tying slippery, wet shoe laces with cold hands in a full-on hurry. I fumbled — later some of the other runners showed me their elastic laces, which look ideal. The run was short and flat but it was surprisingly hard to adjust from the swim — running in swimwear with rash vest and light shorts felt weird and the breathing is different, but after a couple of minutes, it was all fine and I ran as usual. Loads of people call out “well done” and say hi along the way and the finish line is a cheering hug-fest, which felt really friendly and lovely.
My times were crap but not embarrassing: I placed 63rd out of 95; swam 200m in 4:14 (min:sec), then ran 2 miles in 17:32 (including a minute’s transition).
Was it fun? Yeah, it really was. I’d love to do it again.
And racing — am I still scared?
Well, actually, not so much – turns out, making myself do something scary did demystify it, and reduced the fear factor. I now know the route, and have some elastic laces on order, so putting myself through the anxiety did reduce it. I wasn’t the only nervous person on the day and all of us were OK. I may never be a racer by nature: I still prefer the wilderness and my long rambles. But there was something a bit predatory about swimming after someone else with the sole aim of catching them…
And I like to eat.