Thursday, 21 April 2016

Red Bull Neptunes Steps.

What can I say about this one!!?! Certainly not a blog I thought I would have the pleasure of writing.

Before we start be warned its a long one,  but I loved this race. It was personal. And this is my personal record of it. 
The journey to this event really started last year. About a week after the inaugural event, after all the press and videos came out I got a flurry of social media posts/shares and comments on the various marketing material that Red Bull had put out, with the general thrust being ‘Hey Martin, definitely one for you’.
I had a good look over it and had to admit from the off it looked pretty juicy. That said I could also see there was only 200 slots total, and even in its first incarnation it was stuffed full of quality athletes. I kept it in the back of my mind along with a pinch of realism that told me not to bother getting my hopes up about getting into this one.
At the end of last year the media hype started again, and once more the gradual trickle of nods, winks and nudges towards it from friends/fellow athletes and so forth started. The usual furore from a wider crowd shouting about  along the lines of ‘yeah definitely, I’m doing that too’…. a bit of quiet research quickly told me that there was a fairly strong chance none of us were.
Out of every one of the numerous initially keen entrants I have to apportion the full credit for me getting in to fellow triathlete and training partner Olly. He surprised me at the time, he really ran with enthusiasm for the event form the off – the notion of it totally gripping him. Insisting several times we try and get in, and sending me constructive links for registration and the race requirements.
What I appreciated most about that was that I know that the person pushing others to get stuck in is normally me.  As I have aged I have increasingly tired of trying to whip up people and motivate them to engage in, and do (what I perceive as exciting) stuff. Previously that enthusiasm would often railroad people into getting involved, and they are always super chuffed to have done it after the event, but I have learnt to tread my own path, and not waste time on those who do not a; reciprocate or b; likewise invest the same enthusiasm back towards me – instead spending my time around those that do. Olly really delivered on that score, and the whole event was consequently extremely enjoyable. Not having to remind/cajole/enthuse and motivate other entrants to the event  made a refreshing change.
So, forms filled in and submitted – bang on the second that registration opened. I mean literally the second it opened. Alarms had been set and laptops were out, ready to pounce. We sent in our details. Paid the registration fee and waited.  200 places….. and approx. 100+ of them pre designated to full time professional swimmers/triathletes and the like.  I didn’t much fancy the odds.
I cracked on with the day, trying not to inbox watch. Let’s just say that failed. Soon enough the email popped up and I opened it. A low key confirmation of my registration, and a couple of lines that said matter of factly at the end ‘You’re in’. No more. A muffled whoop to an empty room, and a pretty big jiggle of delight to myself to celebrate. At this point I decided it might be a good idea to let Sarah know I was thinking of entering, so I casually sent through the confirmation email to her with a tsunami sized level of enthusiasm and excitement. Confident it could wash aside any worry or reservation that I knew she would try her best to surpress. I think it worked….. Then I thought ‘oh bugger, Olly will be miffed’. Seconds later he text through his confirmation. Couldn’t believe it – we were both in.
From that point on Red Bull did an incredible job of keeping everything very mysterious and hushed up. Another email confirming the dates,  and a warning to keep your eye out for more info to follow - it wasn’t until a week before the day that any more info & the start lists were sent over, and the heat times designated. I have to say, I really enjoyed the way it was put together. Register – Race a month later, and all kept quiet to the 11hr. No messing, no months of hype. Just a bish-bash-bosh. It really made for a snappy high pitched build up on the enthusiasm‘ometer.
A couple of weeks before I then also found out that another friend had winged an entry courtesy of the fact he is a well known commentator for numerous tri events around the Country, and via this path had secured one of the additional 12 places designated for reporters. That, and possibly the fact that Kyle is a very capable and talented athlete/swimmer who also happened to be able to report on the event for 24/7 Tri magazine meant the Shire had 3 representatives.  Just shy of a massive 1.5% of the overall field. We were definitely flying the flag.
Going through the starters in the wave, I kept turning up quality after quality after quality athlete. There is always normally the belief that you can really do well at an event, and the pressure that brings. This time there was NONE. Looking at the times, the pedigree and the calibre of athletes down next to my name on that bit of paper clearly confirmed I was going for the experience. I was willingly driving a 500 mile round trip for a Red Bull Neptunes Steps swim cap.  You have to understand that swim caps are not universally liked in our house. They seem to find themselves everywhere…. cupboards, draws, on top of wardrobes, bags and bags of them in the loft. They have been used to wrap and store stuff in the freezer before now, & I think I’ve seen a few under the sofa and behind the telly. So Yay! Another swim cap on its way back to Louth.

About a week before and all I'd received was this nifty box
with a bit of info and some red bull in.
1 rule they had warned us about. Footwear was mandatory.
Flourescent pink verucca socks obviously then.

With that realisation that no amount of training, (and how the hell do you train for this anyway?? – cargo nets in ponds and all manner of stupid plans were discussed and rejected) would influence the results I cracked on as usual with my Tri season program.
Soon enough we were heading to Glasgow. Staying at a friend’s house near Edinburgh (really appreciated) for the night, we arrived to a voice message from Kyle that seriously stoked the fires of expectation. He was a dribbling, frothing, raving mess of excitement for the course and the event, having spent the day lock side watching athletes pose for photos and test out the course. He agreed with, and enforced the reality we shared, that we were making up the numbers to keep the event real, and seem achievable to the masses come the post event analysis. Regardless, it was clearly going to be fun!

Kyles ultimate voice message of enthusiasm here...

Pre race tea. A suitably fishy affair.
Up early. Breakfast was a pre prepared race day juice and some home-made ‘Balls’ made up of various nuts & seeds etc. It soon had me bouncing off the walls and the nervous poo’s from the ongoing adrenalin overdose kicked in.
Breakfast time. Ramping up on energy and caffeine.
Parking was non existent, but we arrived early enough to be able to grab a slot roadside, right next to the lock system. Being early always has its advantages.  I went straight to the portaloo's and had another dump, before meeting with Kyle and walking the course. It was a bright sunny day, some athletes were milling around and there was an expectant buzz in the air. The water was clearly cold and dark and immediately it was clear where Kyles prior excitement had come from. This looked tough. We assessed the obstacles and discussed tactics.

From near the start the canal ran high over an aquaduct.
Uphill off in the distance gate 1 of 8 and eventually the finish line.
Representing The Shire. Kyle. Olly. Myself.
(And my lucky open water race bathrobe)

A flavour of the obstacles before us.

Basically the only thing that mattered. The Blue Carpeted RB Archway.
And tickets hanging under it to get you to the next round...

Finally, the course map.

On arrival Red Bull were still setting up. You could get all over the course without restriction. It really was a refreshing method of running an event. Bung it up last minute, start a bit later, and then pack it all away and clear off quick. We chatted with one of the course designers.  He explained that it had cost a fortune to design the climbs up the locks with them being a listed structure – they couldn’t drill, screw, modify or damage the locks in any way so had to design a series of special braces that fitted around the locks to hold the obstacle securely under the pressure of the water and frenzy of scrambling athletes as they hurried up them. Knowing this tit-bit of info made it all the more fascinating to study the set up as we kept treading the bank up and down combing over the race before us. Initial bit of course assessment video below.

So, 5 heats. Luckily we were all in different waves. Olly was first to the holding pen, and missed the opportunity to see any racing before he set off.  Time frames just allowed myself and Kyle grab the first race and get a feel for the day. The crowds had gathered, the sun was out, the commentators hyping everyone up now in full flow and suddenly the claxon sounded. Race 1 underway….
The first athletes from wave 1 hit the first net.
It was clear from the off that 32 people charging down a confined channel was going to be the pinch point. A quick get away was clearly the order of the day in my mind. We followed the lead few as they leapt from lock to lock, and assessed the different techniques for negotiating the climbs. As predicted these boys were quick, and I smiled and thought ‘I’ll enjoy this’.
At the top I caught Olly heading down to the start just as I went in to get prepped for my wave. We traded some quick observations on the first wave and he was gone.
The next 30 mins involved sitting in the tent, hearing the screams and battle cries of those in the mix outside, as we were given the briefing ,safety, and race regulation chat.
The rules were simple. 32 swimmers in my wave. Swim 420m uphill through a series of lock gates using the obstacles provided as fast as you can. Not technically a contact sport, any  unreasonable/unsporting behaviour would result in a DQ. At the end there would be 10 flags hanging from a trident under the Red Bull inflatable arch. First 10 to grab them progressed to the next round. Simple.
We were led down the far side of the canal system, opposite the baying crowds. As we walked I saw Olly swim past in the penultimate lock. Knowing his stroke well I could see he was exhausted. The crowd and the commentators roaring at the swimmers to push harder.  I couldn’t quite see, but I got the feeling he was just about on the edge of getting through. He definitely looked wrecked.
Just before the start line there’s a secondary briefing that double checked we were all who we said we were, and finally we were heading down to begin. A diverse looking group of swimmers, but all kitted out it was impossible to tell who was who, and who knew what.
Down on the start line, the bank, a pontoon and a cold dark lock. Looking uphill (the only time I’ll look uphill in a swim I reckon) the crowd were staring and cheering down. I zoned out and focused on the job in hand. Drawing on experience from countless other races I tried to visualise the race before me. The horn. The commotion. Recalling that explosive feeling in my lungs, chest, arms, legs at the reality of a mass start. Preparing the body and mind.

Easy to spot pink socks. We prepare to get in.

There was an insane level of posturing from the athletes around me. Stretching off. Arm waving, leg extensions. The marshall’s gave the first call ‘12mins to start’. During this time at the start we had been advised we could get in and ‘warm up’ as required.  I stood and watched as others jumped and dived in. They started sprinting up and down the small stretch at the start to phyc out the rest of us. At this point I started to see some hope in my endeavours to progress. Maybe an outside glimmer of a chance I might grab the 9th or 10th flag purely on experience and a winter of ice swimming holding me in good stead against the cold.
A few of the early dippers climbed out “ohh its cold. My lips have gone numb” one bloke declared. Clearly not a seasoned open water swimmer.  I continued to sit and watch the myriad of preparation techniques around me. The race plan was firmly formulated in my mind now based on a rolling assessment of the competitors around me…
I eased into the water. It was cold, but nothing to write home about. 7 degrees maybe. The suit more than made up for the chill on the body, and my hands and feet couldn’t have cared less. I put in a few 10 metre lengths, form, sprint, form, sprint. “1min”.
Heart in my mouth from the adrenalin and the taste of the lock, I deliberately swam as slowly as I needed to be last back to the line.  This parked me firmly at the front.
“5..4..3..2…1  ‘HURRRRRRRR…’.

Last 30 seconds.....
That familiar explosion of madness around me. Head down I surged forward, arms wheeling wide and fast to keep people away and create some space. Kicking like a maniac, the usual clawing of hands at my ankles as people jockied for position.  Gasping for breath, then head back to the dark void below. Some faster athletes whip past. I tried to draft, aware of 2 others giving it everything to my left, battling it out. Every breath to that side giving me a surreal stop motion type glimpse on their own NS experience.
I desperately wanted to reach the first obstacle quickly. All out effort for the first 165m to achieve that aim. I'd worry about the rest of the swim after I'd got to the top of the net.
The lock kept everyone shoulder to shoulder. I knew I was centre middle, slightly ahead of the front pack. As the gates grew closer the old brick sides of the lock loomed higher. I could just about hear voices high above me cheering and baying as we approached the net. The madness echoing and ringing against the high brick walls and water around me. It was like swimming into Mordor, the thunder of the water coming through the gate getting louder as I approached. The counter current hadn’t been noticeable down at the start, but from about 10m to the net it increased exponentially with every stroke. This was a steep learning curve and within seconds it was apparent that the only way to attack each obstacle was going to be swim head long at it until you banged into it. If you eased off the current pushed you back.
Suddenly the cargo net is in my hand. The force of the water in the face surprisingly strong. Getting a breath was impossible. Hanging on here, after a flat out sprint, 2 hands on a net and gallons of water being thrust in your face. People around you, in front of you, behind you all grasping for position. It was difficult to stay calm. No hamming it up, no bullshit. That first second or 2 hanging there was tough. Every logical part of your brain is saying ‘let go, swim back, get your breath’. Suppressing  the urge to back off I took a chance and realised that if I breath into a jet of water with my lips pursed and teeth gritted I will swallow a lot of water, but I will just about get enough air in there too to make progress. Not ideal.
Athletes clinging to the net for dear life.
All the while I'm also discovering I cant get my feet in the net because it doesn’t go into the water. It stops level with the surface and is being pulled and yanked about by those around me. Desperate for air,  I wedged my knee in the bottom loop to get purchase and hauled myself from the froth. People all around me, I could see people below me. Once bloke choking to my left.  I shot up the rope as quick as my body would allow. At this point it became apparent that’s where I would make up ground. Light and nimble was certainly preferable to the more traditional big bulky swimmers bodies around me struggling to firstly heave their frames out the water against the flow, and then find momentum up the nets. What I lost in pace I would make up for in the climbs as best I could.
At the top I was taken aback by not only how out of breath I was, but how much my muscles already ached. No time to dwell on that. Over the top.  Head down. Dive. Max pace again….. A straight forward rope climb.  Surprisingly hard having given so much already.
Out. Dive. The water slapping my face I distinctly remember feeling dizzy at this point, arms/legs/lungs all burning from the effort. Again at the next lock, walls loomed cold and forbidding. I could see people at the top of the side of the wooden ladder on the banks cheering and clapping encouragement to find a way to get going. And that was the hard bit. Every time. Tired arms. Nowhere to get purchase with the feet. A brutal dead weighted heave against the force of the water pushing you back down. Cold, numb, wet hands to raise yourself up and find that all important  foothold. Water thumping into your face, unrelenting, to deprive you of much needed oxygen. Confusion doesn’t even begin to describe it.  I might sound like I wasn’t enjoying it here. The reality was there was a lot of pain and discomfort but the adrenalin and abstraction of where I found myself gave a complete thrill and I embraced it with pleasure.
Rope Climb. I adopted a 2 rope approach at this point. Rather than one hand over the other as before  I had arrived at this 3rd rope alone, and out of desperation, genuinely unsure where the strength was coming from to overcome it off the back of the last 2, grabbed one rope in each arm and performed a kind of chin up. Slightly different muscle groups firing. Up we went…
Kyle dominating the ladders.
Fireman style.
Swim. This breaking of the pace to punish the arms and legs with a climb really didn’t help momentum.
Rope Ladder.  Swim.
Rope Climb. Urgh.
At this point the dive off the top led into a lock called ‘The Basin’. The broadest and deepest of all of the bays of water the next obstacle was a barge moored in the middle. Pull yourself onto that, climb up and throw yourself off the top. Given the height no diving allowed. From up there was the first real chance I had to assess where I was. I had been so focused on simply giving it my best and taking it all in that I hadn’t processed where those around me really were. I felt quite a novice in this respect as I have never been bad at having a reasonable awareness of where I’m sitting in the field. From the top of the barge I could finally see the finish line 2 locks up, and some swimmers at the obstacle in front, but not that many.  Was I that far behind?

No diving allowed. A knee bomb off the barge then.
Pedal to the metal I launched off the barge and forgot to close my legs tight. The force of the water as I entered winded me from the ‘man zone’ up, and I gasped for air as I came up. No time to enjoy the pain,
I swam for my life to the climbing wall. Wet and slippy it required a more haste less speed approach, pressing the body close to the wall to avoid slipping off. Over the top. A good clean dive to loads of cheers from the surrounding masses, and the final rope climb.

Final dive from the final rope climb. Pleased to hold form.
Once that was done I could see the finish line and also through the misted up goggles a couple of people crossing the line grabbing tickets… Could there be some left? All I knew was I had to make myself proud so diving back in I kicked like billio, arms clawing at the water for home.
Blue carpet beneath me. Hands on the deck. Knees.  Feet. Loads of tickets left. Unbelievable.
Strolling to the line I was 4th home. Mind blown.
I laid down and recovered and processed the situation, watching much better swimmers come over the line behind me and joined in the cheering as they battled over the line for the last few places. In reality all this was only seconds behind me, and it was frantic. Getting ahead early and the advantage on the climbs had given me just enough. The out and out pool swimmers had struggled in the cold, those not used to the more physical start shying off from the battle. The line up for the next round was nearly exclusively triathletes, and serious professional open water swimmers – most of these swimmers had very decent ASA rankings too, but the pool swimmers who had no previous pedigree outdoors had become an endangered species now.
Kyle had likewise made it to the next round, and as we prepared we discussed tactics. He remained convinced that the race started for him after the first climb. A fireman by trade he is used to scaling things in difficult circumstances, and where as I believed in a hell for leather start he was happy to hang back and ease into it. I knew he was quicker than me in the water, and looking around at the situation we found ourselves in I honestly couldn’t believe I’d bagged a second go on the course. No chance of getting to the final. No chance. Kyle maybe, an outside one…
The semi final & wave one were soon on their way.  This gave us time to recover and prepare. Go through the next briefing and be led down.  There was definitely nobody messing about in this wave. All around me the competitors seemed like man mountains. A ridiculously obvious contrast in size. This race was a bonus, and all I had to do was give it everything to do the best I could. Swim like I’ve never swum, climb like I’ve never climbed. Don’t finish last and don’t cross the line even able to breath or move unassisted. A simple plan.
Getting in was different this time. Nobody dived in early. People found their way a few minutes before, some warm up meterage. We all knew what was coming. Everyone wanted it. That was for sure.
“3….2…1….. BOOM”. Here we go again. Frantic doesn’t come close.  I had been floating next to Kyle and surged ahead as planned. People were passing me a lot quicker this time as we settled in, at a fraction of the turn over rate given their size, and I worked hard to hang on to the back of a leading pack. The breathing was a desperate ‘every 2’. Around 100m in Kyle pulled alongside, he was close to the wall, sticking to his plan that it was better to hit the side of the net where the flow was less and there should be less competition to get on the ropes. I could see his paddle sized hands clawing at the water and his distinctive style as he eased passed me with every kick to present me with his feet as the channel closed in again on the approach to the net. He got some more meters on me and disappeared from view. As I approached the climb I looked up to see a mass of bodies ahead of me. It was 3 deep in men.

Video of the start. Kyle snug to the wall, me slightly ahead with pink feet in the middle. What's amazing watching back is how calm and serene it all seems. It certainly didn't feel like it from under the water.
My next move was probably the easiest tactical racing decision I made all day. It was more than clear as I hit the net that I was about 15 to 18th. If I hang back and wait my turn at the net like some one them seemed to be doing I wasn’t getting through. I also wouldn’t have been able to honestly tell myself I had given my best. OK, pushing through was going to be contact, but it made more sense to risk a DQ for sheer effort than fail through in-action.
(The video above shows Kyle, still on the inside, with a slightly pink under-hat reaching the net way before me. My only option to plough through the gap. I struggled to get my footing at this point, but once it was in I was away...)
And so I ploughed on through the guys in front of me, swimming clean over a couple of them, reaching over another's shoulders to grasp at the climb. I found a hold on the net, and got some space. It seemed to take for ever to get my feet in, but once I had, I scrabbled up with everything I could muster.  It was clear from those around me that I had made some good ground, but that they would soon be back past in the swim. Every obstacle had to count. Again I had no idea exactly where I sat, but had a feeling that I was knocking on the door of the 10th spot and a possible place in the final. I decided run with that thought to motivate my best effort, and hope to hang on by the skin of my teeth.
And that’s what I did. Right until the ropes at loch gate 6 I could see I was closing on 2 guys battling in front of me. I was relatively alone, but could also  see plenty of swimmers well ahead. The next obstacle was the barge, a chance to assess where I sat. As I climbed the rope at gate 6 I became aware of 2 swimmers behind me.
Dive in. Swim. I mean really swim.
Just as I hit the barge the 2 that were behind me draw level. Crap. I have to up my game, I really do have to give everything now. There isn’t a lot left. Arms and legs feel like lead. I gain a precious couple of meters on the guys at my sides by the time I reach the top of the barge. I don’t look below, no care if theres swimmers down beneath me. I just hurl myself off as far out as I can possibly muster. BOOM. That familiar contrast of blackness prickled with the light dancing off the confusion of bubbles around me.
Climbing wall now. Again these 2 are level. They are making ground every time. I stay calm, get a grip and climb. Quickly but calmly. I haven’t made as much on them as I’d like this time. This is getting serious and is going to be close. Who wants it more? How much do they hurt? We will soon find out.
Scampering up the climbing wall
A fellow athlete struggling to get grip

Sprinting for the final rope climb, then hardest of them all. One man to my left. Another to my right. They have scissored either side of me. 4 ropes. 3 men.
They each grab their respective edge ropes. Leaving 2 free in the middle. I decide to chance it, grabbing one in each hand like before, instantly yanking myself up – I could feel my biceps close to tearing with the effort. At the top I was slightly ahead again. Completely exhausted I stumbled over the top of the gate and dived as best I could.
A good dive bought valuable seconds.
As I came up I felt the wash of the 2 behind me as they surfaced their hands just off my feet.  I could see the line. I was over the limit now and imploding fast. I heard myself growling – my body’s go to response to an excessive effort to try and distract me from the pain. Growling ferociously I knew now there was nothing else I could do but maintain this. The maximum delivery of effort was certainly being given. Everything hurt, everything was screaming for more oxygen as the muscles burned. Bang. Bang. Bang. Hurling my arms over my head for the next stroke. I could keep trying to describe how this felt, but it would be pointless. 
It seemed an eternity, but within seconds the blue carpet was beneath me. As I looked up the 2 I had closed in on earlier grabbed tickets. There were still 2 left. I couldn’t believe it. I could still here the 2 behind me, they were about to climb out. Up to my feet and a final sprint to the trident. Grasping that ticket to leave the last one hanging was a feeling beyond compare. A true highlight in my athletic endeavours. A wash of elation and emotion came over me, I let out a satisfied cry. Seconds later I collapsed, like a crumpled wrung out stinky old dishcloth, devoid of any ability to move my arms and legs. Laid on the carpet, breathing like a dying dog. Coughing up manky Glaswegian canal water. Couldn’t have been happier. Eventually I opened my eyes, Olly cheering me from the gantry above. Kyle stood by my feet. Turns out he had been one of the 2 closing me down in the back half, after I had leap frogged him at the first net. He had missed out on the last ticket by a second. Gutted for him for a split second at least, I was ushered to my feet and sent to the tent for the finalists briefing.
Destroyed. But in the final.
Never in a million years expecting to be here. 1 of 20 in the final, I had genuinely given so much just to get here I could not comprehend how I would even make it through the course again, let alone compete. I had about 10 minutes to work something out.
Instead I just decided to savour it. Sat in the tent talking and joking with the other finalists. Most of them laughing at my bright pink socks. Turns out people under 30 don’t seem to know what Verucca socks are, let alone that they came in fluorescent pink. All I knew was my footwear cost £1 (including postage) from China on ebay, they were all in specialist neoprene swim socks – heavier, bulkier and about £50 a pair. That was my outright win of the day.
We walked down. The crowd louder and more hyped than ever. I could see Olly and Kyle cheering and waving from the far bang.
20 finalists. 19 giants. 1 man-child. No prises for guessing who's who...
In the water, about to start. I already felt tired. Time to forget that. Based on where I finished to get here I fully expected to be last.
Phenomenal support from the crowds through out.
The claxon sounds again. Again we are off. This is becoming a habit. Once more I had manged to get to the front of the start, and was giving it everything from the off. Treating this first 165m like a 25m sprint, hanging on for dear life and seeing what happened is all I could do. Everyone stormed past, and they weren’t even trying.  Looking back on the videos after you can clearly see they are doing 1 stroke to my 3. The difference in ability at this stage in the game was incredible. An absolute chasm.
I tried to up the pace, pulling across to catch a draft as a swimmer came past. Timing it just wrong, tired & too keen to get a tow I took the full force of his heel in my face. Bashing my cheek bone and dislodging my goggles. Knocking the wind out my sails. I attempted to defy the laws of nature an not breath or see, but carry on regardless…. That last about 0.5seconds. I had to sit up and quickly ajust, cough out the water I had inhaled and get back down to it. In that small time the pack was gone. They were going and disappearing fast. Long before I reached the net, I could see guys clearing off over the top.
Knowing I was at the back was somewhat liberating. There was genuinely no chance this time of anything. I could enjoy the swim. The unexpected extra turn on the course, and just try and give my best.
Me. Centre left.
At the top of the net I had closed on a few other back markers, and could hear the dulcet tones of Olly and Kyle bellowing at me to give more. “Don’t dare be last. Catch that man”. Or, abusive words to that effective. The growling by now already well established. It was becoming more of a desperate howl from my confused and flogged body.
The climbs certainly closed the gap. He and I were pretty evenly matched, and clearly he was tired. I was a bit nimbler on the climbs, him marginally faster in the swim. On the 2nd rope climb he pulled a good margin and it looked lost. I stretched out my stroke and simply kept swimming. 2 obstacles later and we were locked shoulder to shoulder once more. I noticed he would hesitate just slightly before the dive back in. Micro seconds counting I would need to make the most of even this little extra.
All this jostling spurred us both on, and I relished in the competition. It drew us closer to the next man in front. Close enough that we could almost taste him. Climbing the barge once more the noise of the crowd was insane. My arms so tired, my legs numb from the effort, the jump from the top was a best effort, but certainly didn’t have the force of the earlier efforts that had got me to this point. I could see the winner was already home and the commentators were hoarse with enthusiasm as they urged everyone to push those last few meters to completion.
On the climbing wall this time I had one of my few slips. Sheer fatigue and pressure causing a slight error that set us back level. Deep breath. Recover. Continue. Focus. Hurdling the top of the lock an advantage of all but a few cm over my fellow straggler. A battle of pride. The final climb was approaching. We remained side by side. Knowing I could sneak out the double handed climb to get a small advantage I prepared to find a deeper reserve of energy and effort than I had ever mustered before.  
Ropes grasped. Heave. Up and over. A good body length on my man now.
The unrelenting force of the water in your face.

And finally my last dive, desperate to hold form and gain ground before the finish.
At this point I swear I detached from my body. Absolutely every fibre in every muscle screaming to stop. Begging me to let them rest. I seemed to sit in my brain, but only driving this body around me  like a man controlling a machine, or driving a car, forcing it to give its best when the engine is thrashed. It's screaming for mercy, but the throttle is wrung regardless. Possibly the best analogy is when someone has a heart attack. The desperate last gasp efforts of family or first aiders gathered round - pummelling the chest and the heart of the dead man, pleading him to come back to them. That’s how I felt. Banging my body for home.
I'd been breathing over my right. Competitor on my left. I didn’t want to know where he was. This was everything and that’s all that mattered. I hit the mat and broke into a run. Over the line.
As I exited I felt him behind me. A gnats cock in it, but enough. I was last but one.  My best time of the 3 attempts in the day too. Where that came from I will never know, but job done. Best given.
I collapsed and recovered. The cameraman sticking his lens in my face.
A great end to an truly insane race. Not for the feint hearted. Not for the feeble minded. One everyone should try and enter at least once though.

Pushing some stats about after we worked out 2 random things worth sharing. The journey there and back was  a508 mile round trip. For every mile we drove I had swum 248cm. For every mile Olly travelled he had swum a mighty 82.6cm. What a ratio!!!. Even better than that, the whole day cost me £24. From entry, to swim socks, to a cup of tea out the tent after. £24 for the most unique and challenging swim race I am likely to ever do. Thank you Red Bull for laying on something truly dangerous and heart stopping, and icing that beautiful cake by also making it by far the cheapest event I have also ever had the privilege to be in.
Swim cap in hand. We packed up and went home. Happy.
Thank you for sharing this with me, feel free to check out the full album here.



No comments:

Post a Comment