Yesterday was my first ever swimming race - the Big South Swim. I'm not sure I'd call it a 'race', as my intention was to get a really good training session out of it and gauge where my current level of fitness is. To that end, the day went perfectly. My intention was to draft as little as possible, as I wanted to see what I was capable of on my own, rather than sitting on someone's feet and getting a free ride.
The weather was pretty miserable and I was glad that this was just a swim and not a triathlon. There were 75 of us taking on the 5k distance, which was 2 loops of Dorney Lake at the Eton College Rowing Centre. After a short briefing we jumped in the lake for a short warm up ahead of the start. I positioned myself towards the front, not too sure how fast the other guys were. After the gun went off, I managed to stick with the leaders for maybe a couple of hundred meters before a gap emerged. This was good, as I immediately had water to myself and could set about my plan to swim my own race. I was in no mans land, between the front group and the second pack. After around 1k my leg started to cramp quite badly and I had to tread water for a few moments for it to go. Unfortunately this wasn't the only cramping incident of the day, as it bothered me for the rest of the swim.
Towards the end of the first loop I was joined by two other swimmers, one of which I sat behind for a while. The race was all about practicing my open water skills for triathlon - so practice them I did. I dropped the effort for a while, intentionally letting the other two guys get a break on me. Once the gap emerged, I put in a surge to rejoin them, which I did. When we turned to begin the second loop, I put in another surge and passed them, proceeding to swim the next 2k solo. It wasn't until the final 500m that I could see anyone nearby. Approaching the exit ramp I came out of the water slowly, conscious of my cramping leg and trying not to slip.
I finished in 1:14:12, ending up in 10th. The placing is irrelevant, it's the time that matters. Knowing I swam solo almost the whole way has given me a good benchmark to use. The average pace of 1:29/100m equates to just over 56 minutes for a 3.8k swim, faster than my previous best of 60 minutes at Ironman Austria. There's still a long way to go for my swim to be at the level I ultimately want to be at, but things are certainly heading in the right direction.