Friday, 8 March 2013

Trying to swim: with Swim for Tri

On the shore, through my salt lined goggles I can make out the wetsuited figures of the race finishers. I'm still at least 500m away. Five hundred metres never seems so long until you have to swim it. I'm treading water, taking a breather and then heading in for the final leg of my swim. Breathe, catch, paddle, kick, breathe, catch, paddle, kick. Again and again, with flashes of blue sky, sun, scorched lava rock, breaking my horizon with every break from the clear sea water. Small fish chase smaller fish, who race me and wiggle ahead to my nearest competitor until the water thins, sand comes into sight, then breathe, catch sand - and burst out of the water! I've never been so happy to finish last!

It's my first sea swim race and while it's a friendly between others on my Swim for Tri swim camp at Lanzarote, we have been joined by some fearsome Otters from a UK swim club to make up numbers and who between them create a lot of speed. I started the course an absolute novice with only 1600m of open water swimming under my belt. I ended the course still a novice, but with seven days of dedicated training, I'm a novice who knows what I don't know, can withstand three swims a day across seven days, knows her wetsuit doesn't fit, can act like a pro and has the confidence to tackle what lies ahead!

Swim for Tri run an incredibly affordable swim camp twice a year in Lanzarote - amongst other things. I went solo in September 2012, finding the flights to Lanza also affordable and the only significant cost was the Club La Santa apartments. I opted to share my apartment and receive a discount, getting a bonus when I was allocated no one to share with. The course opens with an introduction from Dan Bullock, the founder of Swim for Tri and man of notable swimming achievement. He was able to introduce everyone on the course from prior knowledge, either reputation or from London based coaching. There was an ironman, a former rugby player, a European champion, a masters regular and then me. Me who has just been able to swim their first 1600m. I thought I was going to be totally intimidated in their company, but everyone was very friendly and supportive and I really basked being in the company of such encouraging swimmers. A big shout out to Lorraine, who must have held the most experience of the group - but always had a kind word.

Days were divided into morning swims focussing on open water technique in the pool, midday sessions focussing on technique and afternoon sessions in the big blue sea itself. In the pool, we lined up in lanes according to speed and while I was slow, I wasn't always the slowest nor the only one to flag or drop a set in tiredness so again I never felt like everyone was waiting for me.  The relentless sessions meant that even the strongest swimmers were working hard and people dropped in and out of what they could handle. The sessions were a great mix of drills, games, races, solo swimming, exercises and demonstrations, not to mention the cringeworthy sessions of being filmed from various angles and then watching yourself on the big screen as an evening dinner treat. As awful as it is to watch yourself (I still cover my eyes horror movie style when I watch the footage) it was invaluable and made the course excellent value for money to have this included.

Dan was a great instructor with just as much time for the tadpoles like me as the pros. I couldn't often understand him, which became a brilliant running joke - something was often lost in translation between this Australian and his swimming terminology and I was often still holding onto the end of the pool confused while everyone swam off. If you're also like me and learn through doing rather than hearing, as long as you have a sense of humour, you'll be alright!
The camp included a visit to the Ironman swim course on the other side of the island for the stop at the German bakery afterwards alone. There's sessions on dryland exercises, wetsuit fitting, race starts, sighting, drafting and race contact - it really does pack a lot in. So much so, that if you do think you're going to make use of the other facilities included in your Club La Santa stay, you might want to temper your enthusiasm; I spent a lot of time afternoon napping in between swim sets and eating - but I did manage to include running, cycling and pilates before collapsing with exhaustion at the end of the week. La Santa is a great venue, I wished I had brought the kids and family, you're isolated from the mass tourists so you can pretend you're a pro, the bar food delicious, the supermarket decent and the staff superb.

I thoroughly recommend the course to swimmers at all levels. The pros on the course learned a lot and gained a lot by their own admissions. I learned that what I lack in technique and talent, I made up for in determination and a total lack of fear of open water. You'll pick up loads of tiny tips that you'd only get by spending so much time in close company with a diverse range of athletes. You'll get a superb back tan, become totally enthused about open water swimming, make a lot of swimming contacts and - if you're really lucky - you may win a Swim for Tri hoodie.

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