Race report: BLDSA Champion of Champions (Dover)

Race report: BLDSA Champion of Champions (Dover)

I participated in the BLDSA Champion of Champions (Dover) on 18 June. This was my first swim race in the year but it didn’t went well. The race format was 3 races on the day, 5, 3 then 1 miles, with each mile consisting of 2 x a 800 m triangular loop, i.e. 10 laps for 5 miles, 6 laps for 3 miles, and 2 laps for 1 mile.

The full result is available on the BLDSA website.

5 miles

The day started with the 5-mile race. It was a perfect condition, totally flat water in the start. I was clocking in about 16 – 17 minutes per lap for the first few laps, drafting off people while looking ahead if I could catch up the people in front. I was hopeful that I could complete the race within 3 hours or even less if I could keep to the draft, making a good start of the year.

However, about half way into the race, wind started to blow, making the sea choppy. At that moment I started to have difficulty in following the draft as I suspect either myself, or the people in front of me, could no longer keep to a straight line. My lap pace had become about 19 minutes by then. Eventually I lost the draft completely and was on my own, and my speed continued to drop as a result. In the final laps my condition deteriorated to be swim-ending, with the 10th lap 4 minutes slower than the 9th lap. In the first lap I completed the lap within 16 minutes but in the final lap I couldn’t even do a single leg of the triangle in the same time.

The following is my Garmin record:

Laps Time Cumulative Time Distance Avg Pace Avg Distance per Stroke Avg Swim Cadence Calories Avg Temperature Moving Time Avg Moving Pace
1 15:36 15:36 775 2:01 1.39 35 149 18.0 15:25 1:59
2 15:54 31:30 790 2:01 1.39 35 152 17.0 15:54 2:01
3 16:38 48:08 772 2:09 1.30 35 148 17.0 16:38 2:09
4 17:20 1:05:28 841 2:04 1.35 36 162 17.0 17:20 2:04
5 19:03 1:24:31 851 2:14 1.26 35 163 17.0 19:03 2:14
6 19:36 1:44:06 829 2:22 1.22 34 158 17.0 19:35 2:22
7 20:59 2:05:05 863 2:26 1.22 33 164 17.0 20:59 2:26
8 21:57 2:27:01 889 2:28 1.19 34 169 17.0 21:56 2:28
9 23:35 2:50:36 923 2:33 1.13 34 176 17.0 23:35 2:33
10 27:38 3:18:14 969 2:51 1.03 33 182 17.0 25:54 2:40
Summary 3:18:14 3:18:14 8,504 2:20 1.23 34 1,623 17.1 3:16:18 2:19

My condition deteriorated to a point that I started to get cold even when the sea temperature was 16°C, such that when I got out the officials were a bit worried. My target time was 3 hours, giving me an hour of rest before the 3-mile race, but I went over it by 18 minutes.

3 miles

I ate a lot of bread in the short recovery time trying to get myself back in shape, but the time was too short for me. I had only about 40 minutes but normally I would need about an hour to recover even if I hadn’t gone to such bad condition when getting out, or on that day, I would expect 2-3 hours of recovery needed. I was doubtful if I should continue the 3 miles, or sit that out and do the 1 mile at the end given the condition. The sea was very choppy at that moment with wind blowing at about Beaufort force 5. The officials still let me to make the decision and they would keep an eye on me.

I started the race. Once in the water I already felt so bad and so fatigued, that I basically had no recovery after the first race. The wind and current was so strong that I made little progress in the first leg of the triangle. My first lap turned out to be 27 minutes (the same as the final lap in my first race) but I was hoping for 20 minutes. I continued into the second lap, and I continued to deteriorate. I was swimming but I made no progress for a significant portion of the time, and people started to lap me (which only happened in the 4th lap in my first race). My time for the 2nd lap was 41 minutes. At that time it became clear that the death spiral was entered and I would have no realistic chance I could complete the 6 laps within the time limit, so I pulled myself out.

At that moment the officials saw me so cold that they treated me as borderline hypothermia.

1 mile

As the result of the above, I was no longer fit to swim anymore so I couldn’t even start the race.

Conclusion

I signed up this race as I thought it would be useful as a Channel relay training, and the distances (5 miles, 3 miles, 1 mile) were something that I could do it any time. However, I totally underestimated the difficulty in swimming multiple races in succession as this was not something I experienced in (I only did once of this kind of races, 1.5 km followed by 1.5 km, however on that day the second race was aborted due to weather so I couldn’t have a useful benchmark). I totally burnt myself out in the 5-mile (8 km) race that I couldn’t even complete the 3-mile race afterwards, when I would not have a problem doing an 8 km swim race any time I wanted to do it. This was compounded by the condition on that day, starting totally flat but ended up very choppy, that the second half of the 5-mile race took all of my strength away that I couldn’t even keep to the draft and my form.

After the race I felt a bit pain in my left shoulder and I was worried if I hurt myself during the race, but fortunately the pain was gone when I wrote this article.

The result list has proved that I am a truly rubbish swimmer, and this was certainly a step closer to giving up swimming.

I have also registered for the East Region Open Water Swimming Championship next month, which is held in a lake in Norwich. I have registered for both 3 km and 5 km races, because of the same reason that it will be useful as a Channel relay training, while the 5 km race will be my main focus as it’s the distance for qualification to the nationals. I hope that I can perform better by then as there will be at least 2 hours between the 3 km finish and the 5 km start, due to the day’s schedule being 3 km, 2 km, 1 km novice and finally 5 km. Also, it will be warmer in a lake (I will need it to be at least 18°C to be allowed to race without a suit under FINA regulations) so I won’t get cold between races.

However, if I really want to become a good swimmer, not only I will need to improve my speed (which is all my swim training is about in this year and it has been effective as evidenced in the initial laps when it was calm), but I will also need to get back in choppy water to do training (which I have avoided since my failure in the Channel last year making me scared of it). I’m not sure if I can really get over my fear now as I now feel so weak once the condition is not completely flat, and I don’t know if I can ever become a good swimmer (if not I will give up swimming and do other sports which I’m interested and which I can get good in it).

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