Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Inaugural Glow Swim

Hot Chilli Tri know how to run an event. I've been to many of their brilliantly organised open water time-trials and aquathons over the last couple of years. Even their set-up at the Club Relays was impressive with some sort of gourmet chef and printed menu scenario (leftovers of which came to the Salisbury Tri camp.. even better!). When I heard they were organising a night swimming event in the crystal clear waters of Vobster Quay, I suddenly had an unusual feeling: motivation for swimming. I signed up immediately.

We turned up not knowing quite what to expect. The goody bag contained one glow stick and a bit of string which needed to be (firmly) secured to the back of your goggles or top of your wetsuit and another glow stick "for fun" afterwards. I was sort of hoping there might be some kind of swimming rave after-party.


There was an atmosphere of excitement as the daylight faded. As we sat with a warming pre-swim cuppa, Debbie expressed her concerns that it "was going to be a bit dark, wasn't it?!". Yes, obviously a night time swim would probably be a bit dark. We did wonder though as we looked out to the buoys how on earth we would actually see them with just a few light sticks attached.

Pre-swim warming cuppa
All became clear in Richard's safety briefing. At each buoy there would be a kayaker with a bright flashing torch. Not only that, but he assured us that the glow sticks would be much easier to see when we were actually in the water. Open water swimming presents risks as it is but doing it in the dark obviously makes it even riskier. The briefing was (necessarily) thorough, so much so that by the end of it the air of excitement had altered slightly to one of nervous anticipation. Debbie had gone from wanting to "smash it" and leave us all standing in her bubbles to suggesting that we all just enjoy it and maybe stay together instead.

The water itself was a surprisingly pleasant temperature and it was much easier than I'd expected to spot the buoys across the water. A rocket fired, and as the firework lit up the clear night sky, the swimmers set off. Sighting was not a problem as the flashing lights proved to be highly effective beacons but you couldn't really see where other swimmers were very easily. Without being able to see my own arms in a black wetsuit I couldn't really take responsibility for their wild stroke and it's effect on the other swimmers. It was also difficult to dodge the wayward arms of others so there was a lot of apologising going on about the place.

Swimming in the dark felt strangely serene. With no visual stimulation except for a flashing light in the distance, all your had to focus on was the sound of the water, your breath and how your body felt. Distance perception was also completely bizarre; you couldn't judge how far away anything was until you were really close to it.

I stopped at the far end, took off my goggles and just watched for a few seconds what was going on around me. It was so peaceful. The sky was full of stars and there was just a few quiet splashes of other swimmers drifting past. It was utterly surreal but completely brilliant!

Then, the silence was broken. A couple a blokes were breast-stroking in my general direction and having a good old chinwag. I'd obviously been floating around a little too long, enough for them to ask if I was having some trouble. I ended up breast-stroking along with them and having a nice chat, possibly convincing them to come along to our club duathlon in November. Nothing like a bit of sporadic event promotion to break up a swim.

I came out of the water feeling really nice. It was a bit like that after-yoga feeling where you're a bit tired but refreshed and calm all at the same time. We hung around to cheer the last swimmer out of the water, the cheer from the Hot Chilli Tri lot was loud and heartfelt; no swimmers had been lost in the dark and the event had been a total success!

The most dangerous bit of the entire evening came as we wandered back up the pitch black path to the car park and could not see a thing, despite waving our glowsticks frantically. Maybe next time they could stick a kayaker up there with a flashing light. A really great event though, and if the novelty of swimming in the dark gets me swimming at least once a month, I hope they do a few more! 

Yep. That's what the other swimmers looked like...

Bit blurry, but almost entirely representative of what the
buoys looked like through my foggy goggles!
The kayak beacon. Great until you're right next to him and
get blinded..

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