Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Swim to the Edge, Solva - Race Report

Well that was interesting. It started out a wet day, and it stayed wet, while also getting wetter as the day went on. But hey, who cares on a sea swim, right? Personally I was relieved to see on the forecast that the winds were going to be calm on the day and southerly instead of westerly – surely this was a good thing. I had signed up for this event hoping for some rough conditions, to prepare me for all eventualities for the Ironman Swim but as the day came closer, my aspirations for the conditions changed somewhat.

Full Panorama of Course, starting at edge of moored boats to the right, then out to the Mare Island (near the horizon, on the right), then back again! 

  After a damp registration I bumped into Dai and Phil, and later Kevin from the triathlon club (on this note, I must say it’s nice turning up to these events as part of a club - also spotted Rebecca in the car park) and found out that the course had changed, due to ‘sketchy’ conditions out the back of the Green Scar island, something which was confirmed at the race briefing. Instead of going around the sizeable Green Scar island, we would be swimming around the little rock right beside it. The change seemed clear, though the q + a afterwards seemed to cause more confusion, which led to everyone asking questions as we got counted down to the slip way. Right so, all set to go.

Getting Suited Up!

It wasn’t a slip start so we had to swim to a starting point by the end of the moored boats. My god, the water was cold! It took all of the 100m or so to the start line for me the get the air back into my lungs and stop hyperventilating. I could sense the trepidation among the other competitors, including myself, about swimming into the wild like this, but nobody would dare vocalise their worries, not when the name of the organisers is Man Up UK!

Masters training buddy, David Thompson (left) and myself, ready to go!

Starting gun. And chaos.

A few of the customary kicks to the face, and a bonus grabbing of my bum, but that was enough socialising - within 50m I was in my own space with the lead pack just ahead. The conditions in the bay were quite nice, and I could still see the lead kayaker, who would be guiding us around the course, and was starting to find a rhythm. Then I passed the island at the opening of the inlet, the black scar, the gateway to the wild, and everything changed.
I was immediately hit straight on with wall of water, and my rhythm was so shot, I had to stop and get my bearings. The waves were unrelenting, a 3 foot choppy swell. Sighting went out the window. Arms slowed right down. This was no longer about swimming against anyone around me, but just minimising how much water I swallowed! Sometimes I would see the swimmers ahead, sometimes I would only sea the crest of the wave. Sometimes the water seemed to disappear from underneath me, and my arms searching for a pull in the water almost had me corkscrewing onto my back! I must say, all the sighting drills in the swim sessions really payed off. Looking forward before breathing, as opposed to looking forward while breathing made a LOT of sense in these conditions! The conditions were difficult but I had adjusted and was happy to be remaining calm. About half way between the bay and the destination rock, I latched onto a guy of similar pace, and he became both my pacer and wayfinder.

As we got to the rock, aptly named ‘the Mare’, things got pretty dramatic. We were warned to stay about 10-15m away from it, and the Mare had its own way of reminding us of this! There was a shallow bed of rock below the surface on the far side of the rock, making for big dramatic wave breaks covering the rock in white foam. We tried very hard to keep our distance but it was a struggle. There was a notable current here too and it was a struggle just to get around! I looked over to my pace twin and thought “well, he’ll break my fall”. I was a bit disorientated coming out the other side, and the lead pack ahead seemed to be going in a completely different direction from where I estimated the harbour to be. To add to the confusion there was a notable amount of swimmers , swimming to the rock the wrong way around!! I put fate in my pace twin and continued on.

It was still rough, but much easier going back. Still up and down, but more riding the waves rather than bashing into them. I got to see some local wildlife too, some barrel jellyfish swimming right under me and pace twin! Apart from stopping to put my swim hat back on, there was no major drama, me & pace twin jostling for position as we found our pace again. Funnily, I didn’t see the opening for the harbour until we were about 50m away. The breaking waves on the black scar rock on the right and onto the cliffs on the left, helped me decide the right swimming line. Swimming back through the opening in the cliffs, with two solitary spectators looking down at us from the top, was a pretty epic feeling!

Once we were back in the bay it was pool-like conditions, relatively speaking. I started to kick my legs and made a concentrated effort to up the pace. My pace twin, being my pace twin did exactly the same. Ultimately I sacrificed my position to him to adjust my swimming hat again (seriously, what is the deal with that?!), and got to the slipway nipping at his heels. I ran up the slip and out to the finish line. I met my masters training buddy, David Thompson who had came 2nd or 3rd with a time of about 46minutes. I myself came out at 50 minutes flat. The distance was about 900metres short (or half a mile for all you imperialists!), but I was pretty happy with that. Not sure about the position, but would hazard a guess around top 20?

I met my pace twin and shook his hand & thanked him for keeping me company out there. He said he actually tried to shake me, but gave up after a mile when he realised I was a good swimmer…. And here’s me thinking we were just pacing off each other! Oopsie.

Unfortunately, due to having a lift, I didn’t get to hang around and see the other Pembs tri folk and how they got on, but saw some nice times on Strava. Well done to everyone who took part. It was not for the faint-hearted, and everyone definitely earned their swimming stripes today!