Friday, 17 June 2011

Egg vs.The Sea

I love the carnage of open water swimming. Being in the mix with flailing arms, disorientation and that race mentality of getting to the front no matter what brings together two of my loves: endurance sports and contact sports. In a group session at Ellingham Lake last Saturday I even managed to get myself a bad reputation in a matter of minutes as I got carried away in our faux 'mass starts' and unwittingly bullied my fellow swimmers and swam over everybody. Swimming over someone - incidentally - is a very bizarre sensation, more so for the recipient though I imagine.


I was therefore, very much looking forward to swimming in the sea at Bournemouth, between the piers. All the goodness of open water but with a bit more splash. I thought I was being very clever by making my own electrolyte drink before heading off. I mixed orange juice with water and added some salt - simple. There was a minor salt spillage during the drink-making process but I thought it would be fine, so I gave it all a shake and threw it in the bag.



This screams 'caption competition'
When I met my friends, a look of serious unease adorned their faces as it transpired that I'd forgotten my flippers. "It's ok", I said "I'll just stay a bit closer to the beach and if I get tired I'll just get out". "I think we should quickly go back and get them.. just in case", Lewis responded. This level of concern sowed a seed of slightly nervous anticipation in my head, what was I letting myself in for?


We arrived at Bournemouth to a choppy looking swell. "Looks a bit rough doesn't it?" I asked. They both hesitated for just a moment too long before exclaiming that it would be okay. I took a swig out of my bottle expecting a zesty citrus flavour and nearly retched as I realised I was drinking a salt solution with an orange tang. 


It was an effort just getting into the sea. You need to get far enough out to start swimming and walking against the waves on wet, fluid sand in flippers is a workout in itself as you trip yourself up again, and again, and again whilst getting smacked in the face by the cresting tide. I discovered the best technique is to take enormous steps whilst swinging both arms to get momentum; think zombie and you'll know what I mean.


When we eventually got out far enough to start swimming, I struggled to get into any sort of rhythm. Every time I tried to breathe I got slapped in the face with more salt water. I tried breathing to the left and breathing to the right but nothing was working so I ended up doing a peculiar, kicky doggy paddle to get my breath back. After ten minutes of hauling myself through the water by any means necessary and I realised we hadn't actually gotten anywhere at all. It was like running up a down escalator but way less fun. Perhaps deciding to swim against the wind and tide hadn't been the best idea. Holly and I decided to get out and spot Lewis whilst walking up the beach, then to attempt swimming back in the other direction.


I was glad to be back on dry land. Having failed to engage in any sort of decent swimming technique I was a bit disappointed and beginning to think that maybe sea swimming just wasn't for me. I couldn't imagine racing in those sort of conditions. We walked slowly up the beach and watched Lewis putting in a whole lot of effort for very little reward. We went on ahead of him and got ourselves back out beyond the groynes.


Then something amazing happened. We started swimming and everything began to click into place. I realised that the trick to sea swimming is to kick like a demon, always breathe away from the waves, forget about trying to do the right thing with your arms and come to terms with the fact that you'll never, ever be to able to find a steady rhythm. One minute you'll be going along nicely then you'll feel like you're getting sucked back, then surged forward, then you'll be up in the air and be able to take a huge lungful of air then the net time you go to breathe all you'll get is a mouthful of seawater. We were absolutely flying along aided by the tide and it felt brilliant. I would have happily walked back up the beach and done it again but it the sun had started to drift out of sight.


I was parched when we got back to the car and knew I was going to have to glug down my gross bottled concoction. Compared to the vast amount of sea I had swallowed though it was remarkably refreshing!


Sea swimming definitely is going to require a bit more practise, but I'll be winning the battle in no time!

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