GRTW swim strength coach, Katie Wright shares the lessons she has learned from her race experiences…including learning that swimming open water without a wetsuit is COLD…
National Aquathlon Championships 2019
Lesson learned: Practise in race conditions and being good at one discipline does not translate to multi-discipline events are
I entered this event off the back of three swimming pool-based events, the first of which I learned the hard way that you can’t – and most definitely should not, compete in an aquathlon wearing just a swimsuit; the run was a painful experience.
So, turning up to the National Aquathlon champsionships in my Women’s Short Distance TriSuit from Decathlon already felt like a huge progression.
My plan was to try and qualify for the GB Age Group Team but I started worrying I’d made a mistake at the pre-race briefing, when I discovered that despite it being July, I was one of only four people not wearing a wetsuit.
I wasn’t that worried as I thought it would make me faster in transition. Only I wasn’t. The river temperature was far colder than I’d expected or practised in and I didn’t have the great swim.
And in transition, my hands and feet were like frozen blocks of ice so putting my shoes on was hard. Despite this, I had a great 5km run, just over 20 minutes in a hilly mixed terrain course and finished sixth in my age group.
Other than learning that I need to choose my kit carefully – and to check the water temperature before the event – I learned, that being a good runner and a swimmer is not enough; you need to be good at the third discipline which is doing them together.
Marathon Swims 2019 (1km swim)
Lesson learned: To practise swimming at different paces
After my disastrous swim at the National Aquathlon Championships, I didn’t give up hope of qualifying for the Age Group team. I needed to prove my 1km swim ability and so entered the Marathon Swims 1km challenge.
We were set off at five second intervals with our timing chip starting as soon as we entered the water. Because I was the fastest seeded swimmer, I set off first swimming down one side of the lane and back up the next, and dipping under the lane rope and repeating until all 10 lanes had been completed. We then had to exit the swimming pool, with our timing chip recording our finish time once we had run over a timing mat.
Although I was first to set off, the pool was already full of 5km and 10km competitors who were swimming at a slower pace and needed to be overtaken.
This added an extra element of complexity, and having to vary my swim pace, a little bit like running when you need to speed up and slow down accordingly, which I’d not practised. Thankfully, I swam over a minute and a half inside the qualifying standard and gained myself age group selection and a Bronze medal podium position.
While the fastest, most economical way to swim is to maintain an even pace, this showed that in a race situation, this isn’t always possible. I now have a newfound appreciation of public swimming pool sessions where I often share the lane with mixed speed swimmers.
Frosty Aquathlon 2020 (Frostbite)
The Frostbite Aquathlon (named for a reason) is held in March and is a great season opening event to test winter training in race conditions.
I started fourth which meant I got stuck behind people in the pool. A quick transition into the run and I managed to get the leading lady in my sights when disaster struck – my shoelaces had become loose as I had not replaced them with used elasticated laces, which means you can pull your shoes on quicker and your laces can’t come undone.
I was forced to stop and then had to try and make up time; In the end I managed a silver place..
I’ve now learned to always test my kit. I’ve never done another multi-discipline event without elastic laces.
Tribourne Multisport Sprint Aquathlon 2020 (750m Swim, 5km Run)
Lesson learned: Practising transitions works
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone on my levels. For my race calendar, I spent the early part of the year training for the European and World Aqualathon Championships, which were both cancelled.
I had to pick myself up, dust off the disappointment and refocus and learned to train in a different way.
Living by the sea meant I was able to work on improving my open water swimming, which I finally got the opportunity to test at the Tribourne Sprint Aquathlon, where I swam over three minutes faster than at the National Aquathlon champs. I also picked up Gold and justified my re-selection for the 2021 Great Britain Aquathlon team.
This was because of everything I’d learned from earlier races, which meant that I did a lot of transition practice, which made a huge difference. Most importantly, I thought about the specific transition for this event and tried to recreate those conditions as close to possible in training, such as getting used to running on a pebble beach to transition!