Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Event Review : Big Dog and Doggy Paddle Swim

What little swim training I do is done in a pool. I keep meaning to go and swim in lakes for training and for the fun of it, but it just hasn't happened. But that hasn't stopped the majority of my swimming events from being done in open water.

When I was told about the Big Dog and Doggy Paddle swims taking place at Tri2O, I saw it as a great opportunity to try out my freestyle in open water. I opted for the Doggy Paddle swim, which was 1.5km rather than the Big Dog swim at 3.8km, as it's a distance I'm comfortable with and frankly tackling a longer distance with my fledgling freestyle was going to take me rather "out of my depth" so to speak.
The venue
This is the 5th year this event has run. Somewhat unusually for lake swims (in my experience) wetsuits were optional. The water on the day was 19.1C and I did toy with the idea of being brave but succumbed to the security of my surf suit, not actually owning a proper swim wetsuit still! The Tri2O centre and lake is near the Reading Lake Hotel in Berkshire with ample parking, changing facilities and a shop offering wetsuits and paraphernalia for sale or hire. Registration was quick and easy; you give your name and you get a swim cap and a number written on your hand. I was (not so) lucky 13.
There were a good number of entrants but not so many people it felt crowded or unsociable. Big Dogs were issued with red caps and had 5 laps to complete, Doggy Paddlers had yellow caps and just 2 laps to swim. After the race briefing the Big Dogs entered the water for their swim and 4 minutes later the Doggy Paddlers were set on their way. 
I've been in mass starts before and nearly always put myself at the back of the pack to avoid the churning, especially as I am usually doing breaststroke. On this occasion I put myself slightly further in to the pack, on the reasoning that I would have a little more space and speed with freestyle stroke. I made a decent start, by virtue of actually managing a few meters of freestyle before freaking out. I had no issues with putting my face in the water, even though I couldn't see anything in the water, but my arms felt restricted by the wetsuit and my breathing wouldn't settle. I maybe should have persevered, tried again after a few moments but was now last in the group and just wanted to keep moving so I quickly adjusted my goals for the event and got on with some breaststroke. 

The lake was a bit weedy on one side which, if I hadn't been doing breaststroke, would have completely freaked me out. I ploughed on and over took a couple of people, crossing the finish line just 3 minutes slower than I covered the same distance in the pool back in May. It was my fastest open water 1.5km and I was super pleased. There were many PBs that day, with the majority of the people I entered with obtaining times of sub 35 minutes. The event was manually timed so you had to shout your number as you came past the finish but a few days after the event you receive an iTab in the post to affix to your medal with your name and time on it.
The event cost £15 or £20 to enter, depending on the distance, and you get a fantastic medal, the iTab and refreshments afterwards. I've taken part in the night swim at Tri2O in the past which was also excellent. I'll be back next year for another attempt I expect only next time I'll try and train in the lake first!
Finishers medal
What are your tips for getting to grips with freestyle in open water, and mass starts?

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