Is it mental to swim uphill in the canal in Maryhill, Glasgow?
What exactly is "swimming uphill" Kate? Well it's swimming 450m, punctuated with 8 obstacles up the locks, including cargo nets, ladders, a climbing wall and rope climbs, whilst freezing, dirty water gushes down in your face.
Look, I'll be honest. As someone who loves the outdoors, swimming in the grubby canal at Maryhill wouldn't be my first choice of locations. It would probably be down there with the Thames (no it's not clean, believe me, it's gross), and a stinky sea loch filled with jellyfish. But a few things attracted me to this race:
It is very competitive. In the men's final, former Olympians didn't even get on the podium. Whilst I knew an injured old endurance-focussed mum could never place highly in what is essentially a sprint swim with a tonne of slippery climbing, I just really enjoy the aggression and fire that comes with these races. I wanted to push my limits - something I've not been able to do since pregnancy, picking up a chronic pelvis condition and having to give up triathlon.
It's local. I live 10 minutes away. I just love local races. I grew up in Peebles and events like Deerstalker and Tweed Love fill me with pride. And to be surrounded by fellow locals cheering us on in the canal at Maryhill was very special.
My dog died here. Ok, stay with me. A year and a half ago we were out a walk along the canal. 2 minutes from the car, our collie got the scent of a fox and ran off. She never came back. We spent 5 agonising days in the snow, rain and wind with our 6-month old baby looking for her, all around the bushes and paths where the swim is (with chris sitting out all night), until a train driver called to say he'd seen her body on the tracks a couple of miles away. Since then, I haven't been able to pass that area without a searing pain, in my stomach and my heart. I'm a nostalgic person but also solutions-oriented, so I knew I had to try to make some happy memories there to balance out the sadness I associate with that area.
And I did!
So, is doing Neptune's Steps absolutely mental?
Well, one thing is for sure - it is fecking hard. Oh my word. I was prepared for the cold (7 degrees) and actually that part was fine. I was prepared for the sprint swims in the sense that I'm not a sprinter. Also we did 16x100s at club on Thursday, which I thoroughly enjoyed but which also gave me major DOMS in time for Saturday!
But the climbs were so incredibly tough, I can't even tell you. The current is against you, water is pouring down, and you have to rely so hard on your upper body strength - forearms, biceps, shoulder in particular - to get you over the obstacles. I struggled to get on the first cargo net and genuinely doubted I would even finish. It was exhausting. But I took a breath, focussed and hauled my injured ass up that net. The three separate rope climbs nearly killed me. I practically crawled over the finish line 11 minutes later and was gutted to learn that I was 6th and therefore had secured a place in the final - I had to do it all again!
I debated whether or not to bother, as I knew I'd be at the back of the field and I was knackered. But I chatted to my old tri coach Joel, there competing and supporting his team (all three of his girls finished in the top 10!) and he suggested I ask myself how I'd feel if I went home. And I knew I had to do it. No way could I have gone home despite the searing pain in my pelvis and my arms!
So off we set an hour later. It was colder by then as our core body temperatures had dropped in that hour. I made the decision to take it easy but as soon as the klaxon went I couldn't help myself. It was so tough but I coped better with the obstacles this time round, pushed myself much harder and didn't hesitate at the top like I had before. The battle for 15th place was hard fought between three of us, with myself coming in 17th in the end - the hardest part was getting out to the finish line - so slippy!
I am so sore today - normal pain in my upper body and my osteitis pubis is pretty bad, but it's a price I wanted to pay just to feel alive again! Being injured has slowly chipped away at my competitiveness, dragging me further down into emptiness as the months have gone on. But Neptune's Steps has given me life again and the confidence to train harder in the pool and the lochs, and try new therapies to one day overcome this stupid chronic pain.
So no, I don't think it's mental. I don't think anyone who did it is mental. I think getting out of your bed, into the outside world, switching off from the shite media, challenging ourselves and finding ways to make us feel alive and invigorated - Yoga, knitting, running, mountaineering, baking, whatever - is completely and utterly sane.
And maybe next year I'll get that coveted place - 15th!
I would like to add a big thanks to Robert for babysitting whilst I swam and Chris filmed!
Winter Swim Sessions
We will be at Bardowie Loch at 10am this Sunday. Remember to change to clocks otherwise you will miss the swim session.
Total Immersion Workshop
If you can swim continuously for 50 metres or more and would like to work on increased efficiency and speed then our One Day Fishlike Freestyle Workshops will set you on the path to achieving these goals. They are held in various locations throughout the UK and are the first choice not only for experienced triathletes and open water swimmers but also for those who are preparing for their first experience of the sport or who want to swim for fitness and fun.
Our workshops have been a fantastic success, our next workshop will be the 13th May 2017.
Monday's sessions are proving to be very popular, so come along and join us.
The coaching session will be taken by Robert Hamilton and will be a great opportunity to improve your technique and fitness to give you a head start for the 2017 Open Water Season.
Robert will bring his experience as a Total Immersion Coach plus his coaching experience which has included coaching swimmers to Olympic Trial level to provide interesting and challenging swim sessions.