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  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

Just Keep Swimming...Bewl Water 5k Open Water Swim

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Since beginning open water swimming I have started to really enjoy it. Ginny and I pop down on Thursday evenings to a lake in Lydd and have a swim around for an hour or so. It has increased my confidence in open water and has conditioned me to swim more than 2 miles without stopping and without the mental safety barrier of the pool sides.

During planning a couple of taper weeks towards the end of my training I asked Ginny how she would feel about a 5k open water swim. We had both improved huge amounts since starting in May, we weren't slow and we both seemed to find it an enjoyable way of exercising, so surely a 5k swim was a good way to test how far we had come.

I looked at this as if I can swim 5k in under two hours then Iron Man 4k should be no problem at all, mentally I would know I could do further and on the day the Iron Man swim would not phase me too much.

We signed up confidently for the 5k and at one point considered the 10k, but figured we were not quite there just yet! 5k would be plenty.

As the race was at the local lake of Bewl Water we arrived with 20 minutes to spare and took full advantage of this with ample sunbathing before throwing on our wet suits. People collected to stretch and warm up, people spoke about their times and what they hoped to achieve, and no one was laying in the sun soaking up the rays apart from us.

"People do take these things very seriously don't they?" mused Ginny

We under estimated how far 5k was when it came to swimming and got a little cocky at this point!

girls laying and smiling before a swim

Wetsuits on, briefing finished and the 10k swimmers set off, it was our turn to enter the water. The course consisted of 1000m laps, so we would be doing the lap 5 times. Our 5k wave was going to be set off with the 2k swimmers so the mass start was a rather large group of people setting off at once, certainly the biggest I had participated in. Ginny was asking where was the best place to start. I suggested we hang back and overtake people once the chaos has calmed down.

waiting to go to swim

Lap One

Bobbing around in the lake waiting for the start, we warmed ourselves up and drifted over to the start of the back of the field, neither of us overly anxious still, lots of practice giving us a false sense of security.

The gun went off and like always there was a mass of kicking, punching and spluttering from people trying to dominate and get the spot they wanted. Ginny and I took off at a comfortable pace, a pace we usually swim in practice and overtook a few people in front. The currents were none existent, there were numerous people around to draft off and the first lap went as smoothly as we could have hoped for. Hopping out after lap one for our Australian exit and snacks we both grabbed jelly babies, acknowledged to each other we were fine and jogged back down to the lake.

Lap Two

Confidently we plunged into the water and started to catch up with people that had gone off far too quickly in the 2K. As the day was progressing the waves from the wake of the boats in the lake were beginning to become more frequent and therefore a bit harder to swim in, but nothing overly challenging, we carried on quite happily side by side making good progress. It was lovely to have a friend to swim next to for a change. Rather than some stranger gawping up at you when they breathed it filled me with calm to have a friendly face next to me and I think to an extent that is why I was so relaxed.

Nearing the last buoy of lap two we began to catch up with a male swimmer in the 5K, He was splashing everywhere so we gave him a wide enough birth to get past. However, on overtaking him he clearly became competitive and sped up, which would have been fine if he had kept the same distance away from us. He sped up, cut us both up, slowed down and then proceeded to do two front crawl strokes, followed by some breaststroke kicks, booting us in the side and face. We moved over and tried once again to stay away from his flailing legs of doom, after all the one thing you do not want in your mouth when you are trying to breathe is some random person's toe! Yet again he sped up overtook and got in the way. We were approaching a buoy up ahead to turn around so swam side by side and did not overtake him. At this point, the not-so-gentleman decided to squash us both into the buoy and do froggy legs once again. A nice thud to the side of my ribs and I was not a happy bunny. Ginny and I sped up and maintained speed to get the violent and not-so-silent idiot away from us.

Refuelling for lap three we discussed this plonker and I made a mental note of what he looked like in case we came into cahoots again. It is always good to know who you need to stand your ground with and to brace yourself for an erratic swimmer who has little regard for others.

Lap 3

We were still very much enjoying ourselves by this point. We laughed and belly-flopped into the lake all smiles and happiness. The third lap felt the quickest, we felt the most confident and overtook a few 2k stragglers and some 5k people that had gone out too quickly. However, the man from lap two had been drafting us. Noting that he was on my right just before a left-hand buoy turn I made sure to keep him in my side vision. He sped up around the buoy, swam over my legs and started to breaststroke whilst half on top of me."THAT IS IT!" I shouted in my head, temper slightly snapping. "He has the entire sodding lake, there is no one near us and he decides to swim over me." So I donkey kicked him in the side of his thigh, hard, twice. Needless to say, he backed off when I accompanied these kicks with a glare mid-breath looking at him. I think I had just learnt to stand my ground in open water.

Catching up with Ginny we swam the rest of lap three with no issues in our nice relaxed stroke. At the end of this lap we looked at how many people were behind us, around 15, confidence was at a peak, we were not doing too badly and were on for a 2-hour finish.

Lap 4

After a team talk at the end of lap three, we decided to step up the pace a tad on lap four and go all out on the final one. Setting off at a decent pace the waves from the boats were getting a bit worse as there were fewer swimmers around us to block this. In addition, fewer swimmers meant fewer opportunities for drafting, however, we kicked on. Around halfway I was beginning to feel tired and sore. I knew I was not swimming efficiently anymore, my arms were moving twice as fast and my legs were kicking like buggery but I was not going any faster. In addition, for the first time ever my wet suit was beginning to rub the side of my neck, every stroke with my left arm caused a rather painful burning sensation where my skin was beginning to be rubbed away, not ideal!

I was under pressure to stay with Ginny and keep pace but she was swimming too fast for me. At this point, I knew I needed to stop worrying about staying with her and focus on my technique for the final lap or I would exhaust myself which is no good. I needed to be learning to pace. We were not far from the final feed stop so plugging on I kept pace and proceeded to eat all the jelly babies left on the food stop for a pick-me-up.

Lap 5

Once again I set off too quickly at the start of the lap and immediately regretted this on turning around the first buoy. Ginny ended up 10m or so in front and I was shattered. So remembering everything I had been taught in swimming lessons I slowed everything down, concentrated and talked myself through my stroke.

"Kick from your hips, spear the water, keep your spine and head in line, focus on a good pull back to your hip, and control your breathing Emmelia. We aren't racing, stop being competitive and just get comfortable in the water again and relax, this is a training session really".

Once I had calmed down and started to think about what I was doing the efficiency came back and I regained my pace, although the old shoulders were struggling with a strong pullback by this point.

After what felt like an eternity of swimming I finally rounded the final buoy to the finish line, via the food station again to get my money's worth of treats. Ginny was waiting at the finish line looking slightly disgruntled with an epic swim cap and goggle tan.

"I do not want to do that again in a hurry, that was harder than I thought it would be," I said...we both agreed and thanked our lucky stars that we had not signed up for the 10k and certain death. However, we did not do too badly both coming in around the 1 hour 50 mark, so under our anticipated 2 hours.

As much as I hated the last lap the whole day served a purpose. I know I can swim the Iron Man distance without any issues now. I have had a large swim start with masses of punching and kicking that previous races did not quite have in the same quantities. Finally, if I can manage 5K in under two hours then a 1 hour 30 Iron Man swim looks to be in sight which would give me a hefty 9 hours on the bike which would be amazing and could potentially mean I can make the cut offs, maybe there is hope!

After the swim
Lesson Learnt:

- 5k is a lot further swimming than running and should not be approached lightly

- Swimming with a friend is lovely and makes you so relaxed

- It is ok to stand your ground in open water and kick or hit people when they swim over the top of you and boot you in the ribs, especially when they have the entire lake.

- Efficiency over speed, you will be naturally quicker if you are more efficient

- Wet suit rub is a real thing, lube up!

- Do not push yourself beyond your capabilities in order to keep up with someone, go at your own speed and do not burn out too early.

Organisation 8/10

Fun 6/10

Difficulty 6/10


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