The life lived in Lycra is quite a sweaty one, I’ve found, but it’s not as sweaty as a life in rubber. I went swimming in a lake for the first time on Friday and the first mistake I made was quite a basic one. I got into my wetsuit far too early on one of the warmest evenings of the year so far. Rubber is not breathable, famously so, Wearing black rubber on a warm, sunny evening meant I soaked up the heat like the first gecko in spring. I thought for some reason it would feel a bit like wearing a condom all over and it really, really didn’t. It felt more like being inside one of those basting bags which seal in all of the flavour, in this case the flavour of armpit and groin sweat seasoned with a soupcon of BodyGlide. Only a barest smidgeon of BodyGlide because I’d forgotten to buy a new stick. It’s on the list for next week along with talcum powder.

I buddied up with Colin and Linda who were good enough to allow me to join them and waded a few steps into the water. I was expecting it to be cold but it wasn’t too bad. In fact the top two or three inches were oddly warm which meant that my hand had the sensation of passing through the warm surface layer and down into the colder water below. After two or three doggy paddle strokes I tried putting my face into the water. I was expecting to see nothing in the murk. I fact, I could see my arms and hands through the water. When some water inevitably entered my mouth, it tasted thin somehow. Chlorinated pool water tastes thicker.

I’m used to swimming for about 20 strokes then taking a break as I push off the side of the pool. That obviously wasn’t happening this evening. I still stopped for a break and trod water or floated on my back for a few moments to get a break or find my way. I tried to concentrate on my stroke and breathing, blowing out bubbles. It didn’t always work. There were times when I couldn’t push any air out at all and I have no idea why. I tried humming but got hung up on what tune I should hum. Handel’s Water Music seemed appropriate but I couldn’t remember exactly how it went, not with my head under water. Humming at least stopped me shouting for help which would no doubt have brought instant attention from the lovely men in the canoes.

I enjoyed having the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit. I sometimes forgot to kick and it didn’t seem to matter. My legs were floating up easily. It was actually difficult to do breaststroke in the wetsuit, so very slow was it. I hardly made headway at all. I only did it for two or three strokes at a time to get my bearings. I also had problems swimming in a straight line. I’m so used to following the blue lines on the bottom of the pool at Green’s. I kept pulling to the right like the cheapest hire car at the airport. I had to make a conscious effort to keep left. Linda had to keep calling to me to swim to the left a bit more. The old adage about men drifting to the right as they get older seems to be true after all.

I’d like to upgrade my Garmin to one I can use in the water too. I like to have the time and distance logged. I also like my toys. I have a PoolMate swim watch just now which is very good for swimming indoors. Its accelerometers allow it to count the number of strokes per length that you swim. It assumes that the pauses in a set are your glides at the start of a length so it counts the lengths you swim too. It’s a clever bit of kit but it doesn’t have GPS so it can’t work outdoors. The Garmin Swim watch doesn’t have GPS but there are a couple of Forerunners which are intended for multisports but I’ll have to save up a bit before I can buy either of them.

I have a lot of work to do if I’m even going to finish the swim at the Cambridge Triathlon in a scant few weeks but it was a good first session. I need to be less of a wuss about swimming crawl in murky, cool water. I did enjoy the session. I think I swam between 700 and 800m.I intend to build up to swimming an entire lap of the lake – about 1.4k – by the time of my big race. It’s a little shorter than my race distance but good practice.

My thanks to Linda and Colin for swimming with me and to the rest of my new clubmates at BRJ Run and Tri for laying on such a wonderful evening’s swimming. I’ll be back at the lake next Friday, lubed up, talced up, rubbered up and raring to go. I might even remember not to be quite so keen to get into my wetsuit.

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PB Saturday

I hadn’t really planned it. I seldom do. I thought it likely that I’d be needed at Wimpole Estate parkrun on Saturday morning so when Paul said he had a full roster and that I wasn’t needed, I thought I’d have a trot round Cambridge instead. I’d planned to have a real go at my Mile PB at the Fetch Summer Mile which was on Saturday lunchtime at the university track. It’s traditional to have a bit of a blow at a parkrun first, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a pop at my parkrun PB while I had a decent set of legs. Training’s been going very well and I haven’t had an injury for a few months so I knew I was in good nick. I’ve been running at the back of the quick groups at C&C’s Tuesday night training sessions and not being too far off the back of the group.

I thought I’d be able to hold the pace I needed. My previous 5k PB, set in March 2012 was 21:03 and I’ve been running 800m repeats in around three minutes. I knew that pace was unsustainable over 5k but I should have been capable of running much more quickly than seven minute miles for the distance. I asked on Facebook for pacing help and Peter Stephens and Neil Tween both volunteered. I thought I’d need to be kept in check a bit at the start. I have a tendency to go off like a teenager at a porn party. There was a chance I’d blow up at 3k if I went off at my usual harum-scarum pace.

On Saturday morning, I had my perfomance porridge (not at all Scottish – made with honey, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries) and a coffee. I remembered to finish my orange juice but not my banana. All done before 7:30am. I need to have my breakfast to run properly but I can’t have it too late or I park my porridge on the finishing line and that’s just not pretty. I met Neil and Peter at Milton. Peter was in a very nice Tweed jacket. He intended to wear it on his run. Chris Darling has a reputation for dressing up on his pacing days so Peter thought that the least he could do was look smart. He looked very smart.

I warmed up. I don’t bother when I’m just jogging round but I needed to be on it from the start. I did the shorter first lap of the course and ran up the finishing straight to check conditions and to visualise crossing the line. I like to say that I don’t have a ritual before a race, that I just rock up and run but that’s not quite true. I need to get my heart rate up before I start or I spend the first half mile running through treacle. I do the same warm up and stretches each time I run hard. I suppose that counts as a ritual.

I ran just behind Neil and Peter for the first lap, It felt really easy. I nearly tripped on another runner and then nearly tripped her. The first lap can be really congested at Milton. I moved past the pace group just past the 1k board. I thought I’d cruise along just ahead of them for a bit in case Peter came in a little behind his target. I gradually pulled out a bit of a lead. I wasn’t wearing my watch so I had no idea how quickly I was running. I ran up behind a junior in a C&C vest at the far side of the lakes. I pushed out a few words of encouragement as I went to pass him and he kicked on a bit. Each time I caught him he would speed up a bit and I nearly fell over him a couple of times. I was a little frustrated but impressed that a boy who couldn’t be in his teens yet was easily keeping pace. He was right there for almost the entire lap. I finally got past at about 3k, I think. Martyn Brearley had overtaken us just before the long straight going back down to the Slippery Bridge at 3.5 and I set about trying to keep him in sight.

As we went through the final lap, I gradually began to close the gap to Martyn. I try very hard not to slow down on Milton’s many corners and each time I ran round one, the gap would come down a little bit. I finally came onto Martyn’s shoulder with a huge effort going past the cafe for the last time and kicked hard to overtake him on the straight just after the final left-handed corner onto the starting straight with 400m to go. I was sure that not only Martyn but Neil and Peter were right up my chuff and I gave the finish everything to stay ahead of them. That finishing straight goes on for fucking ever. There is nothing but pain in your legs, nothing but fire in your lungs, the very hounds of hell in the form of a very gentle, kind and tall man are chasing you down and you can’t look back. You. Can’t. Look. Back. Look back and you risk falling. Worse than that, you give those chasing you heart. They think you’re worried about them. I was.

I crossed the line, collected my finisher’s token – number 45 – and then glanced back. Martyn was there. I had no idea of my time. Neil and Peter came across the line a few seconds later, Peter’s watch stopped on 21:00 so I had a new PB. I didn’t know what my time was then. I waited at the finish funnel for some more friends to come through and then wandered off for a coffee with Julia, Martyn and Alex. It was a happy, happy and completely exhausted time. James gave me my time before I left. 20:38 – a PB by 25 seconds. Job done on PB Saturday, part 1.

And then I had my Mile.

Once again I had a pacer. John Oakes is a legend. He consistently runs at the front of races up to Half Marathon distance and regularly wins his age group. He is another quietly driven, self-effacing, personable and very generous athlete. I had asked for a 5:50 pacer, once again more to stop me going off too quickly. Ours was the fourth of five rounds and it was the busiest. I settled in just behind John after the off and concentrated on moving as efficiently as possible round the track, hugging the inside of lane 1 on the bends. I had Martyn there again. He moved just ahead of me and sat on John’s shoulder at the end of the first lap. We cruised up behind Stacy Wheat, the only woman ahead of us at the 1k mark and this is where I came unstuck. John and Martyn overtook her on the straight before the bend but I was still on the inside of lane 1 and had to move round the outside of her to overtake her because I was losing ground on them. I took the entire length of the bend to do it and then had to work hard to close the five or six strides which had opened up between us.

I didn’t do it. Martyn was flying and I couldn’t close the gap. I took maybe two strides out of him in the final lap. I crossed the line in 6:06, three seconds outside my PB and 16 seconds outside my target time. It was silly to expect two huge PBs in a day but I had so much fun trying. I then ate far too much cake.

I would like to publically thank Peter and Neil for their time and generosity at Cambridge parkrun and John for his pacing at the track. Chris Hurcomb did a grand job organising everything at the track. My thanks to him as well.

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